"A Little Levity Please!" Series
Editor’s Note: Let’s face it – the practice of law can sometimes be a little stressful. Even if you’re the type who thrives on stress, it can still be good to crack a smile every now and again. In this "A Little Levity Please!” series, WLALA will feature stories designed to bring a little humor to your day. Submissions welcome from all members!
It's Personal, Not Business
By Noelle Natoli-Duffy
With the recent passing of James
Gandolfini I am reminded of the many years he portrayed the mob boss Tony
Soprano—a character you wanted to hate on moral grounds, but was just so
utterly transparent with emotion you couldn’t help but fall for him time and
again. Tony Soprano didn’t worry about feelings—he had an animalistic nature,
often responding barbarically to situations—yet at the same time, his viewers
always knew how Tony felt about the given situation. He took things personal and he handled
things personally, taking matters into his own hands.
a day to day basis, we, as attorneys battle the urge to take our cases
personal, whether dealing with a cantankerous judge, a sniveling party, or a
conniving attorney on the other side. We
are told to take the high road and ignore attacks on our credibility. We are told to resist the urge to fight back
when our reputation is tarnished in open court by false accusations.
the same time, when you are in the heat of it—when you are about to try a
case—you are balancing all of the above with gathering the evidence, prepping
the witnesses, deposing the experts, and getting that last minute dirt on the
other side. That, my friends, is when we really need to have strict code to
what if we can do both? What if we can
maintain the dignity of our profession and beat them at their own
game? They put one of ours in the
hospital? We put two of theirs in the morgue.
I say if you want to make it as a trial attorney, you have to take some lessons
from the mob…Il Mafioso…La Cosa Nostra if you wish.
Rule #1: EVERYONE HATES A RAT.
Juries hate plaintiffs who lie. Conduct complete and thorough pretrial
investigation and discovery, including background investigation, and
surveillance, and review medical, employment, and billing records. If you can effectively impeach plaintiff
without the jury’s empathizing with him, go for it.
Rule #2: KEEP YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER.
As the capo, it is your job to take command of the evidence. Know your
documents, back and forth before you get to trial. Have a game plan for how you
intend to introduce each piece of evidence, through which witness, and for what
purpose. Do the same for plaintiff’s documents
and you will know your objections in advance.
Rule #3: PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS. Retain all the experts
you need. This is not the place to save money. Get them the materials they need
to perform a thorough review of all the case facts. Pay the extra money to sit down with them, go
over all of their opinions, and get their take on the cross-exam of the
Rule #4: KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE, AND YOUR ENEMIES CLOSER. If at all possible, work with the other
parties as much and as long as possible.
Try to make a side deal to exchange information or other agreements that
will be mutually beneficial. Use your
alliances to keep the target off your client.
This is where you save your client money—by not picking needless fights
resulting in costly law and motion.
Rule #5: DISPOSE OF THE WEAK LINKS: Move to preclude introduction of
evidence that either hurts your case in chief, or enhances plaintiff’s
credibility. Remove witnesses from your
witness list and documents from your exhibit list that have little or no value. Make sure plaintiff’s case in chief isn’t
reliant on your witnesses or documents—and, if so, find a way to do without
Rule #6: SHOW PROPER RESPECT TO THE GODFATHER. Comply with all of the court’s local
rules. Show up on time, in presentable attire,
and show the proper deference to the Judge. Otherwise, you will find yourself
getting "whacked” in front of the jury.
Rule #7: GO TO THE MATTRESSES.
Create a game plan and commit to it. Show the jury you are passionate
about the position you have taken. Attack the evidence. Cross-examine witnesses
with confidence. Make opposing counsel very
aware of the fact that you may be a "nice” guy/gal, but you have no hesitation shutting
Rule #8: LEAVE THE GUN, TAKE THE CANNOLI. Don’t let your personal preferences overpower
your judgment. Anticipate when it will
better serve your client to user a softer touch instead of leveling the
hammer. Determine which technique will
make the best impression with the jury.
Rule #9: LOOK OUT FOR UNCLE TONY.
Do not underestimate opposing counsel’s ability to bring out an
enforcer. Anticipate the ways in which
the opposing party might try to surprise you with new evidence or testimony,
and, more importantly, be prepared with a response BEFORE trial begins.
Rule #10: IT’S
NOT PERSONAL, IT’S JUST BUSINESS. This
is the one rule I would not follow.
Trial IS personal. If you do not intend to take it personal, if it is
not personal TO YOU, then you should not be there. Let somebody else try the
Noelle Natoli-Duffy is co-chair of WLALA's Business Development Committee and an attorney with Foley & Mansfield. Her tongue-in-cheek comparison of mob tactics to trial practice was originally
published in "The Voice," the weekly newsletter of the Defense Research
*If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact the WLALA Communications Officer, Heather Stern at firstname.lastname@example.org.