By Rachel E. Potter
Originally published in the Winter 2019 edition of The Verdict for Wisconsin Association for Justice
From the day I announced I wanted to be a lawyer, the advice started pouring in. Many wonderful and well-intentioned mentors and colleagues said: “You should watch [insert male lawyer name here], he is the perfect trial attorney, tall and with a loud and authoritative voice that carries effortlessly through any room. He is the perfect lawyer. Be like him.” I have no doubt that many of us have heard similar advice at one time or another. If you want a book that will tell you how to be that “ideal” trial attorney, this is not that book.
At the outset, Trial by Woman is not a book just for women. Certainly there is discussion of sexual harassment, balancing parenting and lawyering, and mental health. But let’s not pretend that these are just women’s issues. These are issues affecting all lawyers.
Nothing about reading this book felt like hard work; I couldn’t put it down. It is a blend between an overview of Rowley and Bowen Hatch’s “Trial Perspective” approach to a case and a pleasantly drawn out talk with your very cool, but blunt, mentors over a few beers.
Trial by Woman is broken into five primary parts, each with a different concept. Parts 1-3 are rich with empowerment, and rooted in the core concept that women in the law are inherently valuable, as female litigators bring a unique skill set to the courtroom. This notion is what sets Trial by Woman apart from the rest.
Rowley and Bowen Hatch’s thesis is that women are more adept at human connection – a skill all trial attorneys should embrace and emulate. Whether or not you agree that women excel at connection, it is irrefutable that an ability to connect with jurors and clients makes for a better lawyer.
In Part 4, Trial by Woman transitions into a discussion of the discrete parts of a trial and introduces Rowley and Bowen Hatch’s preparation-heavy and detail-orientated method of working up a case. Their approach is to focus on the facts that are important and meaningful to a jury – not to lawyers. Rowley and Bowen Hatch cover significant ground in this part of the book, but their approach to voir dire and opening statements resonated with me the most.
There, Trial by Woman delves into building connection in voir dire, capitalizing on the opportunity to have an open and genuine conversation with the jury. A successful voir dire develops a true understanding of the jurors that will be deciding the outcome for your client. An open courtroom filled with strangers is obviously an uninviting and intimidating environment, yet Rowley and Bowen Hatch suggest strategically breaking down the inherent formality of the courtroom by asking the jurors for brutal honesty and letting go of the fear that a juror will say something that will taint the entire panel. Bowen Hatch recollects telling a jury that she would be asking for “millions and millions of dollars.” This quickly became the defense’s punch line for the rest of the day. Instead of hurting the case, Bowen Hatch’s honesty, combined with steadfast politeness in the face of hostility, built lasting rapport with the jurors.
The focal point of this part of the book is the chapter on opening statements, which of course includes advice on building your connection with the jurors through opening statements. Rowley and Bowen Hatch offer a wide spectrum of advice – most salient of which is to undersell your case to build credibility; editing of your opening statement to only what you can confidently prove, and then editing it a little further, saving some of your hard-hitting points for the trial itself. They theorize through this reasonable approach (and meticulous preparation), you own the case and the jury will follow your authority.
The final two sections of the book have the same tone: honest advice that will help you go to war with your self-doubt. The authors offer a practical approach to very real problems female attorneys face on a regular basis – from what to wear, to how to balance your family and career. I’ll concede men are not the primary beneficiaries of Rowley and Bowen Hatch’s advice on how to deal with pregnancy during trial, but law is a business of human capital, and learning how to support your female partners and associates goes a long way.
The message of Trial by Woman is straightforward and clear. To female trial attorneys: you are uniquely talented and suited to be a trial attorney, not in spite of the fact that you are a woman, but because you are. To the law firms who are not doing enough to recruit and retain women: your loss. That is a message I can get behind.
Rachel E. Potter is an associate at Cannon & Dunphy, S.C., in Brookfield.