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4 Trial Prep Lessons (and a Few Idiosyncrasies) of Great Trial Attorneys

We’ve worked with many superstar trial attorneys over the years, and recently asked a number of them to reveal some of the things without which they would never enter the war room or courtroom.

Whether completely practical or endearingly superstitious, their responses invariably tied back to two things every attorney needs going into trial – relaxation and preparation. (In fact, the two tend to go hand-in-hand.) From their answers, we’ve synthesized four useful tips:


1) Bring Great People and Equipment

This is the foundation of preparation, but is sometimes overlooked. You are never truly prepared unless the people – and gadgets – around you are equally prepared. To these attorneys, that means bringing a paralegal intimately familiar with the ins and outs of the case, as well as a stellar tech operator. It also means using only dependable, tested technology, from your laptops to your monitors to your printers.

2) Have Extras of Everything

No sense coming up short in a time of need. When trial is upon you, more really is more – so keep around extra pens, pads, folders, markers, Post-Its™, etc. Some of our attorney-respondents even keep a personal copy of every document and exhibit produced in the case. “So if something goes wrong,” explains one, “I don’t miss a beat.”

3) Don’t Underestimate Simple Comforts

This includes your food and drink of choice, good music and comfortable chairs (at least in the war room, since we don’t advise crunching on Cheetos and jamming to your iPod in open court). While some opt for the healthy food route, others get down to business with cookies, chips or a bit of whiskey; that choice is left to you. But don’t forget, comforts can also include something as basic as having a solitary space to collect your thoughts and reset.

4) Find Your Rabbit’s Foot

Ever a superstitious bunch, great trial lawyers seem to follow the classic adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They’ve admitted to obsessively packing their favorite lip balm flavor, wearing their favorite shined loafers or only sitting to the left of the judge. But you can’t argue with success, and while some lucky charms may seem trivial or oddly specific, many pack surprising sentimentality. We’ve heard of attorneys never replacing their battered, 20-year-old bags from their very first win, or imperceptibly inscribing the initials of a beloved mentor on the top corner of each graphic. In the end, there can be no judgment cast on any idiosyncrasy that keeps you calm, confident and at the top of your game.

Bonus Lessons

We received so much amazing feedback in response to our inquiry that we simply can’t include it all.  Yet a few additional lessons emerged that we would be remiss to omit:

  • Technology is a tool, not a crutch. If you get tied to a strict script, it’s easy to lose flexibility and sincerity. You often end up just reading it out loud. Make any technology work for you while creating good theater for the judge and jury.
  • Don’t just follow the rules, bring a copy of them. As one litigator noted, “I take a copy of the hearsay rules, because very few judges understand them. And I have an old folder with research on what actually constitutes rebuttal evidence. Plaintiff’s lawyers always try to slide new evidence in on rebuttal.” Another always carries a set of standard objections and any local rules. Such things ensure that you’re more than ready for the unexpected.
  • Acknowledge the little realities. This includes being mindful of bathroom breaks – you need to strike a balance between staying hydrated and performing a little dance during your cross-examinations. Interestingly, one attorney makes a point to never drink the water provided at counsel table in front of the jurors (and advises the client to abstain as well), because the jury doesn’t receive the same amenity – an insightful effort to maintain that sense of “we are just like you” fairness.

What helps you relax and feel most prepared?  These successful attorneys have told us their methods, and perhaps you’ll find a way to apply their lessons to your own routine.




By: Adam Bloomberg – Managing Director, Visual Communications

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