The Daily

Why I’m A Trial Lawyer (No. 5)

Dad and Reed (circa Viet Nam)
Dad and Reed (circa Viet Nam)

Reed wrote me a letter me on June 7, 1984, after I graduated from college at Washington and Lee. He wanted to walk me through how to think about law school and a career in the law. He wrote that letter more than 130 years after Lincoln’s notes on a law lecture (see, the previous blog post), but he could have had those notes in front of him. Maybe he did.

“I commend these articles to you and hope that they will spur you on to look at the law not necessarily as your Father and I have practiced it in our separate ways, but as a career opportunity requiring your best efforts in information gathering and study so that you can make a sound career decision. By that I mean, as you enter law school and pursue 3 years of study to become a licensed practicing attorney in some jurisdiction, try to look at the law as a career opportunity and explore it in all of its infinite possibilities. This may seem like an insurmountable task to you at this point, but let me make a few simple suggestions. You can talk to as many lawyers as you can about their careers, and what if anything they have found to be their most satisfying and rewarding experiences from a professional standpoint. Obviously, for your Father, it would be his trial lawyer’s experience and personal injury work … In addition to talking to as many lawyers as you can and as early on as you can in law school, try to informally observe as much criminal and civil court as you can. Granted, there are a lot of lawyers who never go near a courtroom; however, it has been my experience that the best lawyers are trial lawyers, and I would encourage you to experience as much litigation and as many complete trials, from opening argument to closing argument and jury verdict as you can during the course of your law school career …The other practical points which I would make to you in pursuing the law as a career would be first that you divorce yourself from all social and emotional entanglements to the extent that you can mentally cope with such abstinence, and devote yourself exclusively to an intensive study of the law through the course work you undertake and any electives. You will never again in your career have the luxury of so much time to devote solely to the study of law that you have in law school. Do as much extra-curricular investigation as you possibly can, given the time constraints of the course load you have undertaken in a given semester. Also, try to regularly read monthly while in law school a state bar journal or the ABA Law Journal to keep up with the current trends in the law on a state and national basis.”

When I worked with my Father during the ‘90’s, I watched him closely. He loved to work in the kitchen surrounded by staff, colleagues and friends. He’d have files brought to him from our custom cabinets, built into Mexican tiles to slide across the floor. He’d lick his fingers, jab at pages, shout for phone numbers and yell when he didn’t get what he wanted fast enough. Once he’d made a few calls on the beaten wall phone, the phones wouldn’t stop ringing. Doctors and other experts would be calling in with advice. Lawyers would be calling in with other help, often from other jurisdictions. Witnesses would be returning calls. It would be pandemonium for a while. And then, after the dust settled, I would realize – he had accomplished more in two hours than anyone else could get done in two weeks. That kind of skill doesn’t manifest itself overnight. It doesn’t come to most lawyers at all. That kind of skill is the product of hard work, sweating every detail over years working on tough, complex and high stakes litigation. There isn’t any substitute for that kind of experience – advertising, seminars and chasing cases using questionable means is not going to produce the kind of legal skill that you need in a time of real crisis.

On November 19, 1863, Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address – an astounding accomplishment of just 272 words that changed America.

You can learn a lot from your elders. These are the skills and the work ethic that I learned from my Father and developed in my own practice. They are unique skills that I bring to make sure that YOU achieve success in your case.