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DTCI: A lesson not learned in law school

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freybergerI appreciate my law school education. I was given the tools I would need to analyze and apply the law to a given set of facts. I had been brainwashed by lawyer shows on television and in movies to think that I had to be smooth. I relished the thought of catching my opponent in a mistake and slamming the trap at the perfect time, while the jury watched and nodded with approval. Then I started the practice of law. It is “the practice of law” for a reason, and I quickly learned what I consider to be the most important lesson for trial work.

Trial lawyers come in all shapes and sizes. Moreover, the different styles of trying a case to a judge or jury are even more diverse. Although we abide by the same sets of trial rules, statutory law and precedential case law, how we handle and argue from them varies greatly from one lawyer to the next. Trial work is intellectual mixed martial arts in that respect, where a boxer may wage battle against a wrestler.

What’s important about this is that, despite the differences in style, none are right or wrong. The efficacy of your style is dependent upon the jury, not your opponent. And I submit to you that your style is just as effective as anyone else’s, irrespective of the fact finder. This is something I did not learn in law school.

A partner of mine named Chris Lee served two tours of duty with the United States Army. When he tries a case, he is concise and pointed. He doesn’t waste words and saves objections for when they count. His “high and tight” haircut gives him away. He never has to inform the jury about his military service – it is easily identifiable by the manner in which he handles himself in court. In contrast, I’ve never been in the Army. I would never be confused with Chris. I use relaxed humor in the courtroom, where he uses laser-guided precision.

I worked closely with Chris before and between his tours of duty. When he was deployed, I tried to replicate his trial style. I cut my hair, sharpened my points and checked my lighthearted humor at the courtroom door. What I discovered was fairly traumatic: the same points being made by me didn’t have the same effect on the jury as they did when delivered by Major Lee. I learned that I am not, and will never be, Captain America. I am thankful it only took a few cases for this to sink in. After some mental healing, I began trying cases in my own style. The result was a more comfortable and more successful trial experience.

Those first few trial losses also taught me that I am neither better nor worse a trial lawyer than my opponent, no matter how many years of experience he has. This was a fact that was hard for me to internalize. Up to then, I assumed that everyone else knew the answers to the questions still rattling around in my head. It was then pointed out to me that both lawyers in a dispute operate from the same facts and the same law. It is a comforting thought.

I’ve been practicing law for only 10 years. I’m hardly what one would call a wily veteran. However, I’ve been given the opportunity to try more cases than most lawyers my age … mostly because of Major Lee’s military service. I only wish I would have found the comfort of trying the first few cases in my own skin rather than feeling the pressure of wearing someone else’s.•

__________

Gregory Freyberger is a partner in the Evansville firm of Kahn Dees Donovan & Kahn and is on the board of directors of DTCI. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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