Book Review: The Plaintiff Lawyer’s Playbook by Elden Rosenthal

Reviewed by Anna Burr

Originally published in the Aug/Sept 2019 issue of Trial Talk, the bi-monthly magazine of the Colorado State Trial Lawyer's Association.

Becoming a lawyer—especially a trial lawyer—is no easy feat. It requires four years of undergraduate education, three years of law school education, six months or more of bar exam and Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) prep, and successful passage of those two tests.

And yet, after all the money, time, study, and stress, one thing is clear after we emerge, blurry-eyed and exhausted on the other side: we still know nothing about how to practice law.

Some new attorneys obtain positions at large firms with scads of mentorship opportunities and partners looking over theirs shoulders. Others are exposed to the “trial by fire” method—"here’s a case file. Let me know if you have questions.” Personally, my new-lawyer experience fell into the second category. I had partners and associates to field some questions. There were old case files to look through for examples. But for the most part, I was on my own.

When you are trying hard to impress a new boss in a new career, asking a million questions doesn’t always feel like an option. Instead, new plaintiff’s lawyers need a guide to walk them through the basics of building and litigating cases. Enter Elden Rosenthal’s The Plaintiff Lawyer’s Playbook. This new publication from Trial Guides provides a step-by-step process for managing a case from start to finish.

The Plaintiff Lawyer’s Playbook truly does start at the beginning with evaluating the statute of limitations and remembering to evaluate for essentials like conflicts of interest and pending bankruptcies. It then quickly moves into establishing expectations with a retainer agreement and communication plan and social media. The majority of Rosenthal’s book addresses pre-trial discovery and, in particular, depositions.

He breaks down the attorney’s personal preparation, preparation for defense depositions and preparation of the client for deposition. The chapters of this section provide a variety of considerations including whether to videotape the deposition and choosing a court reporter. Many of these details are likely missed by a new attorney consumed with the taking of the deposition rather than choosing the location. Rosenthal draws on his years of experience to provide personal experiences in these arenas including victories and mistakes. There are helpful examples of why such details are important for an attorney to remember.

Refreshingly, Rosenthal does also spend some time on self-care. Sections titled “Take a Deep Breath” and “Preparing Yourself for Trial” provide invaluable reminders that first and foremost, we must ensure we take care of ourselves before we can focus effectively on others.

Although The Plaintiff Lawyer’s Playbook provides significant overview on the “what” of handling a case, it does not go in depth on the “how.” For example, in the chapter on preparing for deposition, Rosenthal outlines the steps for discovery depositions and factors to consider when crafting a deposition strategy. He does not, however, offer sample outlines or transcripts. This book is meant to provide an overview, not to act as a replacement for more detailed volumes on individual aspects of trial preparation.

While The Plaintiff Lawyer’s Playbook will appeal primarily to new attorneys, its content offers a good refresher and a cohesive checklist for seasoned attorneys as well. Rosenthal’s three first tenants: keeping clients informed, liking your client, and treating every case as if it’s going to trial, are sound fundamentals that more seasoned attorneys sometimes need to be reminded of. We easily forget that while some of this process is old hat, it’s new to (nearly) every client and they need our personal attention to answer their questions and assuage their fears. This book also includes advice on handling some of the issues that don’t arise very often such as managing demands for protective orders. The Plaintiff Lawyer’s Playbook contains useful information for every practicing attorney regardless of how long they have been in the game. It’s a quick read and a handy reference for those days when you’ve drawn a blank on some of the basics.


Elden Rosenthal