Book Report – On Becoming a Trial Lawyer by Rick Friedman

NicholeAs I find myself preparing cases for trial after a several-year hiatus, I chose this book for a little perspective and found so much more.

My first impression was one of relief . . . affirmation that lawyers face questions of self-doubt throughout their career and that “you don’t need to be brilliant, charming, or charismatic to win a first-degree murder case”. Also, that being a trial lawyer isn’t often a gift that you are born with – it is a combination of talent, skill, and education that can be continually honed and tailored. A sense of hope followed shortly thereafter, based on Friedman’s identified characteristics for potential success: willingness to work hard & fail, willingness to look foolish, willingness to expose yourself & risk rejection, and willingness to look deep into your own soul.

This book delved into personal qualities that are essential to professional success and questions to continually evaluate along the journey. One section that particularly stood out to me was when Friedman drew a nexus between treating people with kindness and respect and becoming a better trial lawyer. Too often, whether due to media hype or general stereotypes, trial lawyers are often cast as arrogant, self-serving, and aloof or worse. Friedman suggests introspection and continually challenging yourself to evaluate your behavior towards others. What habits do you exhibit when interacting with food servers & staff members? Actions of entitlement and superiority will carry over from everyday life to witnesses and a jury. Seeing them as people with individual characteristics rather than “cardboard cutouts playing roles” and recognizing your impatience and/or self-importance in certain situations can improve your understanding and ability to interact with witnesses and jurors in a trial setting.

Perhaps the best and yet most frustrating advice is that there is no right or wrong, no magical formula for a one-size fits all successful trial lawyer. Friedman goes so far as to say that anyone who directs you that there is only one way to handle a certain case is likely giving you bad advice. No two cases are ever truly the same, nor are two lawyers. Rather than provide a recipe, I enjoyed the frank discussion about ways we undermine our own practices, such as silence being a friend and by playing it safe either tactically or psychologically. “If you want to feel safe, find another job.” Growth happens outside our comfort zones – personally and professionally. We each carry baggage and wounds that may have shaped our decision to become a trial lawyer in the first place, and those same factors can either provide motivation and energy or aid in our unraveling. How do they affect our interactions with others and what manifestations will surface in situations of conflict and pressure?

Two other specific sections I appreciated were about perfectionism and the trap of excessive guilt. The hours and schedule of our jobs are not always easy or predictable and it influences everyone around us. Friedman suggests dropping the comparisons and focus instead on what you are providing, such as what it means to have a fulfilling career, to be aware of and engaged in the larger world, to help others and to fight for something you believe is right. The elusive work-life balance is not and will never be 50/50 – the goal is to keep the pendulum swinging both ways. For me, the reminder that someone I hold very dear is watching and learning from me every day is motivation to do better as a parent, a lawyer, and a human. Not perfect, but better.

Friedman summarized the choice of being a trial lawyer best in the subtitles of two sections – “You’d Better Love It” and “You Will Still Hate It”. Some days, I wonder why I was compelled to this line of work since age 11, and yet (many) years later, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

NOTE: Oliver Law Firm has a reading program and an office library full of many great books. Our mission is to inspire, train, and mentor our work family to improve ourselves and client services.

Oliver Law Firm is located just west of I-49 off Pleasant Grove Road at 3606 W. Southern Hills Blvd., Suite 200, Rogers, AR 72758