I’ve been practicing law for 41 years. I’ve enjoyed a measure of success during that time period. I’ve also suffered some failures. I’ve tried to learn from those failures.
One way I’ve done this is to immerse myself in reading.
About five (5) years ago, I got turned on to a book entitled Damages 3. It’s a book written by David Ball. I hadn’t read a book in a while, so I purchased the book and read it thoroughly. Reading Ball’s book turned me back on to reading. From Damages 3, I read a book
called The Reptile. This lead to other books – many of which are published by Trial Guides. I’ve now read approximately 30-40 books in the past 5 years – about 6-8 books per year. It’s been a pure joy and I’m going to continue to read – for pleasure and for self-improvement.
Reading what I’ve read over the past five years has helped me appreciate why I won some of the cases I’ve tried. Unfortunately, it has also helped me appreciate why I lost some of the cases I’ve lost.
Let me give you an example. After reading The Reptile, I came to understand that people don’t like a lack of clarity. With that knowledge in hand, I was representing a man charged with hiring another man to kill a game warden’s goats.
The man who testified that he was hired to kill the goats, testified that on the night when he slit the throats of the two goats, he had consumed 6 percocets and a dozen or so beers. This is my rough memory of his testimony.
The highlight of the trial was when my client took the stand. The Attorney General’s Office was prosecuting the case and they asked my client the following question: “You don’t like the game warden much do you?” My client heard the question and turned to the jury. He then
said: “No, I don’t like the game warden much. I think he is an asshole.” What a contrast – my client was very clear and the fellow who said he was hired to kill the game warden’s goats wasn’t clear at all. Hearing what I heard, I immediately thought of the
lessons in The Reptile.
In the closing argument, I urged the jury not to go where it wasn’t clear. I told them that when you go where it’s dark – it’s dangerous. Go toward clarity. I urged them to find for my client if for no other reason than he was clear. He could have waffled and said he thought the game warden was a helluva nice guy. He didn’t. He told the jury how he honestly felt and he didn’t mince his words when he did. I told the jury that you can trust that person. You can’t trust the person who takes 6 percocet, drinks 12 beers to wash it down and then tries to tell you what happened.
I’ve enjoyed all the reading, but I’ve had to adjust to it in a fashion. You read these books and there are wonderful suggestions/ideas within the four corners of the book. Nevertheless – I’ve convinced myself that I need to trust myself to make good judgments. I need to trust myself to make good decisions along the way. I’ve learned that I can’t necessarily mimic the great lawyers who are writing these books. Instead, I’ve got to take what I can from what I’ve read and make it part of who I already am. I’m trying to trust myself more, not less, than prior to my having read the books.