Do you practice in a major metropolitan market ?
Am I correct in assuming that you've been practicing for about 5 years ?
Exclusively civil matters ?
How many jury trials have you had ? Any in federal court ?
Besides Evidence & Civil Procedure/Criminal Procedure, are there any law school courses that you recommend ?
I'm asking these questions to better understand your view regarding the quality of trial lawyers. What are the primary deficiencies you see in other trial lawyers ?
P.S. Based on your opinion of other trial lawyers, I assume that you rarely compete against US Attorneys in federal court, and, probably, not in federal court often for matters not involving the US Government.
I practice in a major market. I practice in Houston. I believe the Houston market is underrated. Our GDP is second to only New York, I believe. But don't quote me on that. I do know for sure that we have the second amount of fortune 500 companies next to New York, thanks to our humongous oil and gas market. Our medical center is the largest in the world. So everything related to healthcare thrives. We have 14 hospitals in the medical center alone. We have a lot more littered throughout the city. Medicine is huge here, as you can imagine. And because we are such a huge area, we have TONS of construction, ranging from billion dollar projects all the way down to projects that are tens of thousands of dollars. There is lots of money to be had in Houston. In addition to that, we have tons of engineering firms, in part, because of the abundance of construction we have.
I have been out of school for 5 years, but I was very sick with a terrible rare disorder for three of those years. It left me completely incapacitated, temporarily. I couldn't make myself dinner, let alone work. So I've only been practicing for two years. I've had my law firm for one and a half years.
I only practice civil. I have a litigation boutique. That's all I do. I practice contract litigation, construction litigation, employment discrimination, products liability, catastrophic personal injury (no car wrecks or motor cycle accidents as if that stuff is different from each other. That's how PI lawyers advertise, it's irritating.) and intentional torts that are very severe. If a business is not involved in the tort, I'm not suing.
I feel that being a plaintiff's attorney is the most efficient way to make money when you look at the amount of money you can make and the work you have to accomplish to be successful. It's hard work. It's very intense work. It's not for the weak at heart, especially if you are fairly young in your career as I am. I played football back in the day and was very good. I use that confidence and tenacity when I handle my cases and perform in the courtroom.
I have not appeared in federal court yet. I have an employment discrimination case pending there now. I go for a lot of money. I don't feel I need the other side to do me a favor. That's a weak minded way to look at it. The proper way to view it is that you will TAKE the money whether they politely give it to you or not. I do it because I can. But as a result, I will tend to have more trials.
Now I only have had five trials total in two years, three jury and two bench. In addition to that, I have had training because of interscholastic mock trial. If you have good coaches who have distinguished themselves professionally, those are the best people to teach trial skills. That training paid off because I won runner up for best advocate in a regional mock trial tournament in Oklahoma. But the best thing I took from that tournament, that gave me the confidence I have to do what I do, basically right out of law school, was a law professor who attended UVA Law for law school with 20+ years of trial (JAG those guys are great trial lawyers) experience said that I had more skills and talent as a trial lawyer than most existing trial lawyers. And this was before I had graduated from law school. He gave me a half hour talk that was very encouraging and flattering. I was very thankful to God for that experience.
I won the very first trial I was in. It took place in Harris County District Court. I was up against another UT Law lawyer with 30 years of litigation experience. That was the first time in my life I was really intimidated. I thought I was going to get my ass kicked. He had 30 years of trial experience to my zero. And the law school education was even. But God was definitely with me!
And this brings me to a big point I'm about to make. Take it for what it's worth. It is not scientific, but it is my opinion. I would say the majority of trial lawyers are not good. Most have not had formal training by way of interscholastic mock trial (in school mock trial competitions are a complete joke and waste of time). I say interscholastic mock trial is the way to go. I have said to take an advocacy class in other posts. And that is better than nothing. But there is no replacement to participating on one of your school's interscholastic mock trial teams. Not only do you learn, but you have to practice what you learn. It's just like football practice. We practiced something over and over until we got it right. We learned WHY something should be done a certain way. We practiced every night for months leading up to the competition. You just can't get that kind of training and teaching anywhere else. You can't get it in a law firm. They can't train like that. Some people think they can learn trial skills just by watching someone else perform. I say you can't. Furthermore, just because someone has practiced trial law for twenty years doesn't mean they know how to do it right. I've seen trial lawyers who have been practicing this long, not do it right.
I was also in the Criminal Defense Clinic. That was even more practice and training from lawyers who knew what they were doing in the courtroom. I would also advise that you take a clinic that trains you to handle contested hearings. But you have to do both interscholastic mock trial and a clinic with contested hearing training. You don't have to literally, but if you want to know what you are doing from the get go, you better do both.
As someone on this message board said before, trial law is not a science. That is true. But it IS an art. That means you can do it, but you can suck at it or you can be exceptional at it. And that makes all the difference in the world whether you win or lose. If you let the facts of your case influence your mindset as to who should win, then you have already lost in my book.
As for what classes to take in law school, yes, take the most extensive evidence class you have, take your state's civil procedure. You MUST take civil procedure as opposed to criminal procedure. It won't hurt you to take both, but you cannot replace civil procedure with criminal procedure. Civil is more complicated and errors are more costly and irreversible.
Take the most cerebral classes offered at your school. And also take those classes on areas of law that you would practice if you worked for yourself. Knowing the extensive subject matter of an area of law helps a ton. Those that go to T3 or T4 schools are at a serious disadvantage. Those classes teach the blackletter rule of law as opposed to theory. Learning theory allows for you to get training as to how to solve extremely difficult issues that may present themselves from the facts and law pertaining to your case. And you have to be prepared to argue law as well as facts. You may have a hearing at the trial level where a judge needs to make a preliminary ruling as a matter of law. And trial judges get these decisions wrong ALL THE TIME. So be prepared to file an interlocutory appeal before your case ends. It's extra work. But sometimes, only you can make the right argument at the next level of court. Or be prepared to fight an uphill battle which you may have to do sometimes. That's why it's so important to expect everything. It's really no different than game planning for a football opponent.
You are correct in implying that US attorneys who work for the DOJ are great trial lawyers! If you go against them, you better be able to bring it or you WILL lose. State prosecutors are jokes compared to US prosecutors. I have a law school classmate who is a US prosecutor for the DOJ. He was as good if not better than I was. He is the real deal. He's already made a name for himself kicking people's asses in the courtroom.
I can laugh now, but many trial lawyers try to intimidate their way into a win. I had one talk to me in a hostile tone during a court ordered mediation right before trial. He then asked for a large sum of money to settle. I just thought to myself that "he must have lost his dang mind! He must think I'm a scared fool because I don't bark." I just responded to his offer, "we're going to trial." Also, so many of these lawyers think they have smoking gun evidence against you. I had another try to get me to dismiss my case because of the counter suit damages for her client were rising. I told her, "yeah, I'm not concerned with that." She continued to make her point. Then I was like, "I don't think you understand, those damages you cite are irrelevant to our claim which I am about to amend to make substantially larger. Furthermore, my case theory completely refutes your damages claim, so I'm not the least bit worried about your claim for damages." She was shocked and didn't know what to say. I'm a big believer in shut your damn mouth and just do what you do. You can either bring it or not. But don't sit there and bark like a loud ass annoying dog as if I'm going to give a shit.
As for what I've seen from other trial lawyers, their logic is a bit off. It's kind of there. A really good argument can poke holes in their claims.
The biggest thing I see, and this is far more universal, the presentation of the argument is terrible. Also, I've noticed a lack of important fundamentals that can really hurt you if you are going up against a good lawyer. Some lawyers actually do have pretty good presentation, but the fundamentals are lacking or the logic is lacking or both.
Hope this helps. I hope to see more of you join the trial lawyer fraternity. It's awesome! And there are some good ones. I had a good conversation with one who went to Stanford Law School. He was preaching solidarity among Texas plaintiff's counsel. It was good stuff.