Out on Long Island, where I have a law office and where I live, lawyering and golfing go hand in hand. Its expected that if y practice law out here, you golf. Personally, I hate golf and only do so rarely and only at Golf Outings. I’m terrible at it since I only took the game up in my 40s and have not the time (or desire) to practice as much as I would need to in order to get any good at it. The rare times I do go out on the course with clients, I make them agree beforehand that they will not equate my golf skills with my lawyering ability. But in playing the game I realize that there are lots of similarities between golfing and trying cases. Here’s my top 5:
#5. What you wear matters Golfers can get away with wearing stuff you can’t wear anywhere else. Garish colors, odd combinations, etc. But being cool and comfortable is top priority. For trial lawyers, dress is also important because jurors (and judges) will sometimes form impressions of you from their initial view of your appearance. So while you don;t want to go too far and look like a peacock, you want to look “put together.” Sometimes dressing down or way up may be right to send a message to the jurors about your position and case, but the general target you are going for is neutral – you want jurors to think you’re well dressed, neat and in control.
#4. Where you do it matters Golfers are always trading stories about beautiful courses they have played and trial lawyers are no different. We love a nice courtroom that sends a message of gravitas and dignity to jurors and witnesses. But more importantly, you have to know your jurisdiction and audience. What are the judges like? What types of folks make up the jury pool? What are the issues going on in the county or municipality? And just like playing the same course over and over again helps your game, being a regular in a courtroom is a tremendous advantage. Unless of course you’re obnoxious.
#3. Remember its a long game You’re going to have good shots, good holes, and your share of bad shots and horrible rounds. Same with a trial. Chances are if all the evidence was completely in someone’s favor, you wouldn’t be going to trial. Trials generally occur when both sides see a path to winning based on the evidence or the law. So realize that you’re going to take your hits. What matters is that you are prepared for it and that you have prepared the jury for it in jury selection.
#2. Practice, Practice, Practice You cannot get good at golf without lots of practice. It takes very little to make a golf shot go very wrong. You need to hit the driving range, get lessons, and play round after round of horrible golf to get to the point where the awkward cumbersome motion that is a golf swing looks and feels natural. So it is with trials. Preparation and practice are the keys to success as a litigator. I’ve been doing it for over 30 years, and I still practice my opening and summation out loud several times before the start of every trial to see how it sounds, to feel if i am making a logical connection with the evidence and yes, to make it look like I am speaking off the top of my head when in fact, every word – usually every pause – is thought out and has a reason for its placement and inclusion.
#1. Getting good requires public humiliation Unfortunately, there is no way to learn golf or trial law without failing in public. Neither activity are for folks who are shy about “putting it out there.” That’s one of my favorite things about trial law. The competitiveness and the isolation of it. When you flop, its on you and no one else. There’s no masking your weaknesses and flaws. Your skills are on display and there ain’t no place to hide. Each time you do it, you get more comfortable until you develop your own sense of style as a trial lawyer. just like a golfer needs know what his weaknesses are and adjust his game accordingly, so too must the trial lawyer know what his Achilles’ Heel is and deal with it. For young lawyers out there, I wish I could tell you that there was a better way to learn how to try a case but there isn’t. You can reduce the risk of this by reading my Top Ten Tips For Young Lawyers but you are going to get yelled at by some judge, you are going to go home one night feeling horribly about all the questions you forgot to ask or for freezing like a deer in headlights before the jury, but its all part of the process.
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