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Why It Doesn’t Always Pay to be the Smartest Guy in the Room

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Ego… All good trial attorneys have it.  Without a little ego it would be difficult to stand up and try to persuade a bunch of strangers you just met to acquit your client or award your client a significant sum of money.  It takes not hard work and preparation, but a fair amount of moxie and courage to be an effective trial attorney.  However, it does not always pay to be the smartest guy in the room.  I learned this early on as a trial attorney while prosecuting  cases.  I would always work hard to anticipate evidentiary issues that might arise, look up cases, copy and highlight them so I was ready if a question of admissibility were to arise.  As my experience grew, I incorporated this research into my trial notebook which I have covered in an earlier post.  Sometimes in my zeal to win and impress the judge, I would jump the gun before it was really necessary and start quoting case-law and the rules of evidence or procedure to the judge.  Most judges have a fair amount of ego too and want to believe that they are the smartest guy in the room.   Even if they aren’t, most juries will think that they are. Some judges even have what is commonly called “black-robe-it is” and feel that they are infallible and will demean attorneys who dare to disagree with them.  Now, if I see that the judge is likely to take up my position on a legal point, I don’t interrupt, interject authority or case-law until I am asked to so by the Court.  It better for the judge to think your position is the judge’s own idea and take ownership of your position.  I am careful to let the judge shine as the smartest guy in the room as long as things are moving in my client’s favor.  So next time a legal issue arise, pause and see how the Court is approaching the topic before speaking.  Then you will be the smartest guy in the room, even if you are the only who knows it.

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