My mentor used to remind me frequently that, as trial lawyers, our job is to persuade. I’ve been watching trial lawyers try to persuade for over 30 years. Being persuasive is not easy. It takes talent, hard work, and a little experience doesn’t hurt either. Fortunately, we begin practicing the art of persuasion as infants – so lawyers have some experience with persuasion before they get their law licenses. What are the characteristics of a persuasive trial lawyer? Credibility, Knowledge, Relatability.
1. Credibility is paramount. If your audience does not believe you, you will not be persuasive. Credibility is earned. Be honest. Be candid. Don’t deny the obvious. Be the person the judge looks to for accurate information.
2. Knowledge of the subject matter is essential. A good trial lawyer puts the time in to know the case and the evidence. I don’t believe that style is more important than substance. If you don’t know the substance as well or better than your opponent you will probably lose, and you will deserve to lose.
3. Relatability is important. What may persuade an Ivy League educated federal judge is different than what may persuade a union laborer. The arguments that work to persuade a large city jury differ substantially from those that a rural judge finds persuasive. It’s not enough to know your audience, you have to be able to persuade that audience. You don’t learn about relatability in an ivory tower. Talk to people from all walks of life. Get to know the differences that exist among people from different regions, ages, social, educational, and economic groups. Bring that experience into the courtroom.