Reviewed by Howard L. Nations and Stephen Daniel. TRIAL (Oct. 2009)
In 1829, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story stated: "The law is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage."
Trial attorney Rick Friedman’s latest book, On Becoming a Trial Lawyer, offers useful advice to those who wish to pursue success as a trial lawyer without forfeiting a fulfilling life as a family member, friend, and member of society. The book has value for the prospective lawyer as well as the trial attorney who wants to better understand and cope with increased professional and personal pressures.
On Becoming a Trial Lawyer is a candid examination of the difficulties trial lawyers face. But Friedman also offers encouragement: Even though you may not be the most talented or well-spoken attorney, he says, preparation, understanding, and tenacity often will suffice to carry the day in a court of law. Equally important is the desire for justice and belief in your client’s cause.
In the book’s first chapter, "Entering the Jungle," Friedman raises points to consider in deciding whether being a trial lawyer is the proper choice for the reader. He notes that trial work is difficult and relentless in its demands; at the same time, litigation offers boundless opportunities for a lawyer to do good work—and, he notes, those who do good generally do well. For perspective, Friedman offers interesting anecdotes and useful insights from his experiences as he evolved into a successful trial lawyer.
However, the path to success and the litigation landscape for aspiring trial lawyers seeking courtroom experience have changed exponentially. Most cases that would have served as excellent training tools for aspiring trial lawyers in years past are now either settled at mediation or effectively eliminated by tort "reform." Friedman addresses this issue in an excellent discussion of aspiring trial lawyers’ responsibilities and opportunities to take control of their own education; he describes ways to attain valuable education, experience, and training, even in trying times. The best advice Friedman offers is to develop intuition and judgment, while keeping an open mind to contrary views, particularly those of the judge and jury.
Becoming a Trial Lawyer is not an instructional manual on trial technique but an insightful complement to the technique tomes that fill trial lawyers’ bookshelves. However, the book is replete with useful trial tips and techniques for storytelling, pre paring witnesses, and relating to the judge, for example. These and other tips emerge as part of Friedman’s broader discussion.
Representing people is Friedman’s passion. But he warns of the job’s pitfalls and the harsh realities that success demands—including the job’s tendency to consume great amounts of time at the expense of personal and family life. He explains how quality time spent with family and friends is not only its own virtue but also enhances a lawyer’s ability to connect with people in the courtroom and elsewhere.
For those who have chosen to navigate the perilous pathways of the jungle that is the trial bar, Friedman offers advice on how to function under pressure within the framework of a happy, healthy private life. He discusses coping with stressful situations that confront trial attorneys daily, such as the need for emotional detachment and resilience in dealing with opponents, and the understanding that we cannot control what others do to us—we can only control our responses.
Friedman writes, "As a trial lawyer, you must do more than cope; you must struggle to understand. In the end, understanding is your most powerful weapon." Aspiring lawyers may strive to heed that advice. The book’s focus is on the truth—not only in dealing with the judge, the jury, and your opponents, but also the virtue in remaining true to yourself despite self-doubt.
Friedman uses himself as an example of someone who is not considered a great thinker or speaker but who has become one of the country’s best trial lawyers by presenting himself as he truly is. Although he constantly reiterates that the book is not about trial technique, the reader starts to believe that his sincere, self-deprecating, and honest approach may be the greatest trial tactic of all.
Those who desire to achieve success and avoid the traps of the jungle, while still functioning as a whole person, will consider this book a valuable resource. On Becoming a Trial Lawyer provides helpful insight to those who would follow the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
Howard L. Nations is founder of the Law Offices of Howard L. Nations in Houston.
Stephen "Buck" Daniel is a law clerk in the firm and a student at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama.