The best trial lawyers don’t win because of some special hook. They win because they work harder than the other guy and don’t give in or give up.
We all love to be clever — to have the witty retort, to come up with the non-obvious solution, to figure out the special little way that no one else figured out. Lawyers are probably worse at this than most in that we like to think we’re so smart and constantly talk about what law schools we went to (even those wishing to become associate justices of the Supreme Court of the United States like to talk, or, more correctly, rant and rave — and rave some more — about that).
Given this overvalue on being clever and oh-so special, precious little flowers, it’s not a surprise that many lawyers, and our clients, think that there is some original or peculiar idea that will solve the problem, and thus win the case. This is how it always works in lawyer movies and shows, when there is that, “Aha!” moment that as viewers we find so satisfying.
Real trial work is not like TV, at least in this way. Originality and fresh thinking definitely helps. But, generally, it doesn’t win the day.
What does? Very unsexy hard work and sheer will.
If you want to win as a trial lawyer you have to be ready to work. I’m not saying work so hard you ignore family or friends or community or other worthy demands on your time. I’m not saying work hard just so you can brag about it. But I am saying to work hard — often as simple as getting out that extra email, or devoting those stolen 15 minutes when you have a break you didn’t think you would to some writing or research, and, yes, sometimes spending that unexpected night or weekend on the case that needs it. Working hard will help you win.
Of near equal importance and, in the end, even harder, is pure will. Don’t give up. Don’t give in to unworthy but well-resourced adversaries. Don’t let tiredness or outside worries become excuses. This is not easy and it takes more than effort. It takes an unwillingness to yield to anything except, as Churchill says, good sense.
One of our greatest thinkers ever — who was so valued for his thinking that he worked at a place with the fantastically unspecific (and fairly arrogantly named) Institute for Advanced Study — was Albert Einstein. His thinking was so original that it upended the way we looked at our physical world. Yet, he didn’t focus the credit on his creative mind. Instead, in his typical self-deprecating manner, he said, “It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
Stay with the problems longer. Work hard. Don’t give up. Win.
John Balestriere is an entrepreneurial trial lawyer who founded his firm after working as a prosecutor and litigator at a small firm. He is a partner at trial and investigations law firm Balestriere Fariello in New York, where he and his colleagues represent domestic and international clients in litigation, arbitration, appeals, and investigations. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.