In a previous article, I proposed that an aspiring trial lawyer must decide whether to become a “barrister” or “solicitor.” In the British system, solicitors hold the client’s hand and shepherd the case to the door steps of trial. Barristers are creatures of trial, versed in the law of evidence, trial procedure and ethics. Barristers mastered the art of advocacy, knowing how to motivate juries in their favor. Solicitors, though choosing not to be a courtroom star, perform the vital function of maintaining the client relationship.
The American justice system makes no distinction between true trial attorneys, and those who prepare cases for trial and handle the client. An aspiring “barrister” can therefore build a trial-centric practice in two alternative ways. Some have built a trial-only practice: they are called in shortly before trial and then are speed-briefed by the referring attorney. Appearing somewhat earlier in the process, e.g. during the deposition phase, is a variation on this concept. Alternatively, one could create a hybrid solicitor-barrister practice, i.e. representing a client from the outset of a case through trial, but with the commitment and skillset to try the case if necessary.
Becoming a barrister, regardless of the model, requires a commitment to mastering the following core skills.
1. Mastering Evidence Law
One must memorize the rules but that is only the starting point. You’ve got to know how to practically apply the rules. There are evidentiary foundations for everything and you have to know how to build them. If you are interested in a fast learning approach to federal evidence check out my flowchart-based reference-research-learning product: GlanceCharts’ Quick Guide to Federal Evidence.
2. Trial Advocacy
Beyond the technicalities of introducing evidence one must know how to persuade juries. Central to the development of a winning case, one must know how to identify a theme of the case. If you are a plaintiff’s attorney, my favorite learning text is Mark Mandell’s Case Framing. His system requires you to identify “I-can’t-get-over-issues” as the skeleton of a “case frame”: an overarching case theme that can be capsulized in a word or phrase.
3. Fact Development
Barristers must be passionate about finding fact witnesses. Studies show that good fact witnesses trump experts most of the time. Barristers must avoid the discovery litigator’s trap of fighting over everything in discovery – that’s a waste of time; spend it finding fact witnesses. Remember social media evidence and its ability to change a case too.
If you are an aspiring barrister, regardless of the model you build, be good at what you do and master these skills.