On Becoming a Trial Lawyer, an Introspective Journey of Self-Discovery

Becoming a Trial Lawyer Trial Guides

by Scott Carness, originally published on Trial Guides' blog May 19, 2009

Rick Friedman has done it again. The author of Rules of the Road and Polarizing the Case has written what is arguably his most compelling book yet, Rick Friedman On Becoming a Trial Lawyer. This time around Friedman takes us on a guided trip through the soul of the trial lawyer. He examines reasons for becoming a trial lawyer, considers what psychologically is needed to succeed, and offers hope and encouragement for the burgeoning practitioner. This is a must-read for new attorneys, and for every developing trial lawyer. Of course, since all good trail lawyers are continuously developing, this means that you should read this book.

For the purpose of this work, Friedman defines a "trial lawyer" as someone who (1) represents individuals or small businesses in litigation, (2) is dedicated to developing the ability to skillfully represent clients in trials, and (3) is committed to putting his/her best effort into each and every trial.

The text is divided into three parts. Part I explores how to equip oneself with the tools of the trade. Part II identifies common errors made by most trial lawyers due to what Friedman terms "psychological blind spots." Part III is a discussion of the emotional and psychological challenges facing the trial lawyer.

Why be a trial lawyer? Friedman reveals at the outset "this entire book is my attempt to answer this question – for me and for you." When he asked Gerry Spence this question, "[Gerry] didn’t need time to search for an answer. ‘It’s the best way I’ve found to learn about myself.’" Friedman adds, "[y]ou might discover strength, maturity, courage, and compassion – in your self and in others that you didn’t know existed. That may be the best reason to be a trial lawyer." 

A major theme of Trial Lawyer is the quest to understand human emotions and motivations, recognizing that while most adults have personalities developed in childhood, most are not trying to be trial lawyers. "Two things make (trial lawyers) different. First, you’ve chosen a career that requires you to clearly see and feel what is going on with other people. Second, you’ve chosen a career that will subject you to enormous conflict and pressure."

Friedman examines the feelings and emotions we experience when we win trials, when we lose trials, and when we are faced with unreasonable settlement offers. He strives to help us see clearly in times of conflict and pressure. He emphasizes the importance of physical health, and offers counsel on our relationships with family, friends, partners, staff, clients, opponents, and our fellow trial lawyers.

A chapter of Becoming a Trial Lawyer is dedicated to the question: "Do you have what it takes?" Naturally, Friedman suggests looking inward, not outward, to answer this question. There are many kinds of trial lawyers, and no particular personality type is necessary, but "[e]motional resilience is an absolute job requirement." Of course, you must be willing to work hard:

We’ve all seen the bumper sticker that says, "I’d rather be sailing." If anyone does a bumper sticker for trial lawyers, it should probably say, ‘I’d rather be plowing through documents and reading arcane technical articles, so I can impeach the other side’s expert.

Becoming a Trial Lawyer is a quick read. It is well-organized, divided into 33 short chapters. I am recommending this book to all of my friends and colleagues, and will be revisiting it time and again. If you are a fan of Friedman’s earlier texts, then read his latest. You will be glad you did.

To learn more about how to improve your skills as a lawyer, see Rick Friedman's books The Elements of TrialBecoming a Trial Lawyer, and The Way of the Trial Lawyer.

Visit Rick's Trial Guides author page for more on his best selling books and videos for lawyers.