You Deserve… NOTHING!

Did you hear Tony Romo’s press conference earlier this week? It was one of the classiest and most gracious speeches I’ve heard in a long time.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, Romo was the 36-year old starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys (arguably the most coveted position in football).

Earlier this year he was injured, and forced to sit on the sidelines until he healed.

While he was out, the second-string quarterback (a 4th round rookie draft pick) stepped in to keep the team going.

There’s an unwritten rule in sports that you don’t lose your job to injury, so everyone expected that Romo would be back at the starting QB position as soon as he was healthy.

But nobody predicted what the 4th-string rookie would do.

That rookie, Dak Prescott, took the helm of the Cowboys, leading them to an impressive 8-0 record.

A perfect record.

It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

So what should happen next?

Sure, you shouldn’t lose your job because you got injured, but what happens when your replacement does an amazing job?

If you were an objective manager deciding what would be best for the team, your decision would be simple and easy to make: Go with the rookie and the perfect record.

But what if you had skin in the game?

Would it be an easy decision, or would it be tortuous?

Worse yet, what if it was your job on the line?

Would you be willing (or able?) to endorse the younger, better quarterback, knowing that it was the best decision for your team, even if it meant that you would lose that coveted job?

Objectively, it might be an easy decision, but from a personal perspective, it’s an impossibly difficult thing to do.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d be magnanimous enough to step aside, even if it was in the best interest of my team.

But Tony Romo was selfless.

He pledged his support to the rookie QB, because he felt it was in the best interest of his team.

In his speech (which you must watch if you want a class on building character – check it out here), he said:

It’s in this moment you find out who you really are, and what you’re really about. You see football is a meritocracy. You aren’t handed anything. You earn everything, every single day, over and over again you have to prove it. That’s the way that the NFL, football works. 

Here’s the important trial lawyer lesson that I want you to take away from his speech. That’s the way life works, too.

If you want to be a great trial lawyer, you have to earn it.

Every. Single. Day.

What have you done to earn it?

Did you win the biggest verdict ever seen in your courthouse?

Did you win your last 10 cases in a row?

Did you win every motion you argued this month?

Congratulations! I’m really proud of you! Seriously, those are great accomplishments, and I’m really, really proud of you.

Those victories are… Amazing!

Those victories are…Fantastic!

Those victories are… Last week’s news!

Here’s The BAD News…

You can’t survive on your past victories.

Your next client doesn’t care what you did for your last client. They don’t care what you did for your last 100 clients.

The client standing beside you in court this morning doesn’t care that you won your last 100 trials in a row, he only cares about his case, and what you can do for him now.

He expects you to be the best lawyer in the courthouse today, and expects you to do a great job for him now.

Those victories have already been cashed and spent, so if you want to maintain your status as a top-level attorney, you have to prove it all over again every time you step into the courtroom.

But Here’s the GREAT News…

It also doesn’t matter if you’ve lost your last 100 trials in a row.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve screwed up, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been lazy, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been less than you know you should be.

Your past doesn’t equal your future.

That means you start your next trial with a clean slate.

This trial is a brand-new opportunity for you to excel.

These jurors have no idea what your past looks like. They have no idea whether you’ve won every case you’ve ever tried, whether you’ve lost every case you’ve ever tried, or if you’ve never even tried a case before.

All they’ll know is what you deliver once you walk through the courtroom doors.

Earn your spot on the team by giving them what they deserve.

Be completely prepared, and deliver the strongest, most persuasive arguments you can.

You want to be the starting quarterback?

You want to be the star of the show?

You want to be the trial lawyer that other lawyers fear, that judges trust, and that clients scramble to hire?

I don’t know where you are right now, and I don’t care what your past looks like. All I know is that, if you truly, truly want to be, you CAN be that lawyer.

Every week, you’ll have to earn it, but if you work hard enough, you can do it. I promise.

Just remember that every morning wipes out yesterday’s victories, so you need to start fresh and honestly answer the question: "Do I deserve the starting position?"

Only you can answer that question. For your client’s sake, I hope the answer is always "Yes."

The Secret Sauce for Courtroom Victory

The past few weeks of sports have delivered some incredible highs and lows.

Like millions of other fans, I stayed awake into the early morning hours, captivated by the cliffhanger ending of Game 7.

Harry Caray calls Game 7

(I’m not crying… You’re crying!)

I guess I’ve been a Cubs fan since I was a little kid.

We lived near McHenry, Illinois and my dad loaded up the van with all of the neighborhood kids to take us to Wrigley Field.

I still remember walking into the stadium and experiencing everything for the first time.

The sights, the smells, the excitement leading up to the game… It was a great memory.

It was the first baseball stadium I’d ever been in, the first major sporting event I’d ever been to, and I loved it.

I fell in love with baseball.

My parents were even cool enough (and patient enough) to take me to a Dairy Queen near Chicago where we waited in line for HOURS so I could get Dave Kingman’s autograph. (Keep in mind, this was back around 1979, when he made the All-Star team and was the NL home run leader – he was a rock-star and a living legend!)

Yup, I loved baseball.

But then, something odd happened.

In 1994, they cancelled the World Series because the players went on strike.

They turned their back on me (and millions of other fans), so I turned my back on them.

Other than going with my family to see a game in Yankee Stadium before they moved into their new stadium (my dad and my brothers have been Yankees fans their entire lives, so it was a great experience), I doubt I’ve watched even a dozen games (including Wednesday’s World Series finale) in the past twenty years.

It makes me sad to write that, because I used to care so much about baseball.

But once trust is broken, it’s almost impossible to regain it.

Compare baseball’s level of trust to the level of trust created by the person in the next sporting story.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum, in September we heard the sad news that golfing legend Arnold Palmer had passed away.

Arnold Palmer was a legend.

My interest in golf started when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, after we moved to Florida. We lived near Palm Beach Gardens ("The Golf Capital of the World"), so I saved my allowance, bought a starter set (only 5 clubs: 9W, 7W, 5W, D, Putter!) and got the chance to join my dad on some of the best golf courses in the country.

The lucky thing about living near the PGA Championship Course is that I had the opportunity to see some of the best golfers in the world. I saw the 1983 Ryder Cup, and I got to walk the course following golf legends like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Gary Player.

But Arnold Palmer was different.

When Palmer was playing, you could tell at an instant which hole was at, because there were more crowds following him than any of the other players.

They called it "Arnie’s Army."

It didn’t matter whether he was leading or trailing…

He always had a crowd.

That’s because people loved him.

In one chance encounter, I quickly found out why.

I was probably 11 years old, and watching the players warm up at the driving range. As they finished up and walked out the practice area, I would ask for autographs. This was before celebrity "selfies," and almost everyone was kind enough to sign my little autograph book.

As one of the players finished, I asked him for an autograph.

He brushed me off.

And it wasn’t just a brush offf… It was rude enough that other people took notice.

One of the people who noticed was a fellow player on the practice tee.

From behind me, I heard a kind voice say, "I wouldn’t mind signing your autograph book, if you’d like."

When I turned around, it was Arnold Palmer.

THE Arnold Palmer!

I was awestruck.

He was bigger than life, and when he signed my autograph book, he made me feel like the most important person on the planet.

That entire encounter probably took all of 15 seconds, but it’s been indelibly etched in my mind for these past 30+ years.

But there’s nothing unique about that experience. I bet he probably had encounters like that every day of his life, touching people in some small way, making them feel important and special.

That’s why he had "Arnie’s Army" and that why he was so celebrated.

That’s why the other golfer, despite his fame and his skill, never enjoyed the types of crowds or the legacy that Palmer did.

(There’s no need to mention the other golfer’s name, but don’t worry, it wasn’t any of the ones I’ve mentioned in this article.)

The Trial Lawyer Lesson

If you’re still reading, you’re probably going, "Those are nice stories, but so what? Where’s the tip that helps me become a better trial lawyer?"

Here it is:

To win the jury, you must earn (and keep) their trust.

Your ability to persuade jurors never relies solely upon your courtroom skills.

You can practice your opening statements, examinations, and closing arguments until you’ve honed them to a fine edge.

You can work with your witnesses until they have the oratory skills of Cicero.

But if jurors don’t trust you, or if they don’t trust your witness, you won’t win.

(Remember Aristotle and the ol’ logos, pathos, and ethos trilogy?!?)

At the beginning, jurors don’t trust you…

Other lawyers don’t trust you…

Even your own client might not trust you.

Trust can be difficult to earn, but if you are the type of person who is trustworthy, if you’re the type of person who radiates character, then you can earn their trust.

You can’t fake it – you’re either trustworthy, or you’re not.

(Think about that for awhile… If you’re not happy with your answer, you might want to change a few things in your life).

But even if you’re trustworthy, and even if you earn the jurors’ trust, you will lose it in an instant with a misrepresentation or a stupid mistake, so be careful with what you say and mindful of how you say it.

Be honest, be trustworthy, and keep the jurors’s trust. That’s the secret sauce to persuasion.

Performing Under Pressure

The Secrets to Performing Under Pressure

Parallel parking.

If you work in a major city, it’s something that you probably do every day.

For example, here’s a picture of where I parked my car outside the courthouse just the other day:

Nothing special about it, right?

Sure, the car is a little longer than the average sedan, but there’s still plenty of distance between my car and the cars in front and behind.

There’s absolutely no reason for me to be nervous about parking the car in that space, right?

And usually, I’d agree with you.

Normally, I would park the car in a spot that size without even thinking twice.

But this time, I hesitated, and almost had second thoughts about parking in that spot.

Maybe it will sense once you see the full view of where I was parking:

That’s right… The spot where I was going to park was in-between two police cars.

Even though it was a normal parking job, it didn’t feel normal, because of the extra pressure weighing on the situation. Of all the different cars in the world that you don’t want to accidentally bump into, “police car” ranks near the top of the list.

(Also on the list: Rolls Royce, Ferrari, and anything owned by a Mob Boss)

Nothing was different about the actual facts… The traffic, the size of the parking spot, the length of the car, etc… All of those facts were exactly the same.

It was just the perception of everything that was magnified because of the types of cars involved. Suddenly, it felt like this was going to be much more difficult that it actually was.

The same is true for your trials.

Pre-trial preparation, jury selection, opening statements… The same techniques apply in every type of case.

But when you’re involved with a high-stakes trial, a high-publicity trial, or dealing with a legendary opponent, it feels like the case is different.

Just remember: It’s not.

Trust your training, and trust your skills.

The same winning advocacy techniques that you’ve successfully relied upon in other cases work here, too. Be confident. You can pull this off. Just take a deep breath and remind yourself, “This is a trial… I know how this works. I’ve been here before. I’ve won cases before. And I can win this one, too.”

The pressure makes the case feel different, but don’t let it negatively affect your composure or case presentation.

If you can’t perform under pressure, you shouldn’t be in this line of work. Every client, regardless of whether they have the lowliest dog-bite case or a ground-breaking human rights issue, deserves your professionalism and highest effort.

When pressure rears its ugly head, keep calm, maintain your composure, and keep your focus. You can do this. You’ll soon realize that this case isn’t really any different from the other cases you’ve tried, and you’ll put yourself in the best position to successfully bring home the winning verdict.