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Trial Advocacy Techniques (Part I)

This post explores some of the most important trial advocacy techniques of great trial lawyers that I learned from writing my latest book, Turning Points at Trial. Given that most lawyers do not have very exciting cases, I asked the great lawyers in my book whether it was worth the effort to make a boring case interesting. The answer was a resounding yes. The reason is that trial lawyers are in the persuasion business. Great trial lawyers will make any case their most important one because they know that jurors vote for the side that they care about the most. There is another secret which I will discuss in a moment.
Mark Lanier’s Tip
In my previous post, we learned from Mark Lanier how he won a national record setting verdict in a case with very compelling facts. He is obviously a master of trial advocacy techniques in the courtroom. But I asked Lanier what he would do if he had a very boring case such as a car wreck case. Here is the secret he shared with me. He advised that in any trial, you need to tell the jurors that the verdict is their chance to make a statement. It is your job to tell them what the statement is and make it personal for them. For example, in a fender-bender case, you might say:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we should not have to do this when someone is at fault in a car wreck. We’re not supposed to have to go through all of this. We’re not supposed to have to file a lawsuit. We’re not supposed to have to hire lawyers. This ought to be dealt with forthwith, straight away by responsible people. But here we are, and this is your chance to say, ‘Don’t do this. If you’re responsible for someone’s wreck, don’t do this.’”
Windle Turley’s Tip
Another trial advocacy secret of great trial lawyers is that when you take the time to make a boring case interesting, you are developing the skills that you will need to use to persuade a jury when a bigger case comes along. If you wait until you have a really important case to become a great lawyer, it will be too late.
I asked Windle Turley the same question I asked Mark Lanier. Turley won the largest verdict ever against the catholic church for sexual abuse by one of its priests. In explaining how a lawyer with a run-of-the-mill case could capture the jury’s attention, Turley admits it is difficult but says it means that the lawyer just has to work harder. He said that the key is to communicate to the jury that such a case is really a “community issue.” This is not just a fight between two drivers. As Turley says, “This is something that can involve every single one of us this afternoon. We should have the right to go home safely without someone slamming into the rear of our vehicle. You just have to broaden the issue and get it away from the defendant and the plaintiff.”
Apply these trial advocacy techniques now to your practice and make all of your cases interesting. Your efforts will not only create payoffs now but later when you have a big case. If you want to see my latest youtube video on trial advocacy techniques, click here.