Litigation: 6 guiding principles for trial lawyers

Rules, tools and the essential elements of success

If you’ve paid any attention at all to the articles I’ve written over the past few months, you might have noticed that I have some pretty strong opinions about the practice of law, and trial practice in particular. But that’s only because helping clients resolve disputes, especially involving complicated and difficult matters is something I’m extremely passionate about. I believe that being a truly successful trial lawyer is about more than having a sterling record of case wins. It requires having a fundamental belief in the adversary system, an unwavering tenacious commitment to the pursuit of justice and trial advocacy skills. After that, success as a litigator and an advocate boils down to having a clear set of operating principles 

They may not write them down anywhere, but every trial lawyer develops their own set of beliefs and strategies over time. I’m certainly not the foremost legal expert on the planet. I only know what has worked for me and what I’ve observed and learned over the course of my career. Admittedly, every individual brings their own set of beliefs and biases to the practice of law. These are the principles that help guide me.

4. A trial is a right, not a privilege

This isn’t really my principle—it’s established by the U.S. Constitution. But it’s important for clients to remember this fact. Often, the court of public opinion has made its decisions about the guilt, innocence or culpability of participants well before trial begins. The media tends to use convenient stereotypes to classify defendants and plaintiffs. It often has made its own final verdict before the ink is dry on the court filing. Big bad corporation X must be guilty in this product liability case. Underprivileged plaintiff Y is only in this for the money. These kinds of classifications can scare clients away from taking their case to court. But thankfully, the actual court system does not base its decisions on public opinion. A litigator must remind their clients and themselves of this in every case. The system can work.

Contributing Author

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Howard Scher

Howard Scher is co-managing shareholder of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney's Philadelphia office and is a former member of the firm's Board of Directors. With experience acquired in...

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