Facts. Reason. Logic. These are some of a trial lawyer’s essential tools. That’s the job: to become immersed in the facts of the case because the facts are the building blocks of sound legal arguments. President John Adams (who was also a lawyer) once said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” But over the years I’ve found time and again that while facts are indisputable, the way they are perceived by judges and juries can be drastically different depending on how they are presented.
Judges and juries are human. They are not guided by only reason and logic, and they don’t process facts like machines. Their wishes, inclinations and passions do influence how they decide when ruling on a case. While this concept has largely been socialized out of formal legal training, how a jury feels about a case can have an effect on its outcome. As a lawyer, I cannot change the facts of a case, but if I don’t present them well, it can affect how the jury feels about those facts.
Keep them on their toes
In order to convince judges and jurors of your argument, you must first keep their attention. Occasionally, this means taking an unconventional approach. There’s a commonly held legal axiom that says you should never ask a question that you don’t know the answer to. But as I once found out, if you ask a question to which the answer is obvious, you may find an answer that is better than you could have imagined. In this case I found an answer that enraged a judge and changed the direction of a case.