Cross Section of Lawyers at a Call to Bar ceremony

Being a great trial lawyer is not
an easy task because great trial lawyers are not born but made. Advocacy is an
art and like every other art, the skill needs to be groomed. No great artist
woke up from a dream bursting with musical expertise
like abami eda,
rather it took hard-work, perseverance, consistency and commitment to horn
their talents and skills, the same rule applies to great trial lawyers. 

When I was a white wig, I was
always interested in having a great advocacy practice, so I searched for books
and essays on tips on how to become a great advocate and in my search, I came
across a book by F. Lee Bailey titled “To Be A Trial Lawyer” . I found the book
quite informative and over time, I return to its pages like a Tax Collector
looking at his tax notes over and over again trying to discover any unaccounted
tax clearance. I hope to share some of the great tips I learned from F. Bailey
with you in this blog and I hope it inspires you to strive to attain excellence
in your legal career. I will also be using excerpts from F. Baileys’ book to
illustrate the points. 
 TIP 1

“English in every
form should be your first concern. The use of language is a trial lawyer’s
daily fare and if he is good at it, a daily joy as well. Only those who have
refined and polished their ability to handle words in any and every form can
know the delight that such a faculty offers. Among the many talents that can
boost one’s self confidence, none surpasses the ability to spellbind an
audience. Only entertainers, Political figures, lecturers and trial lawyers
experience the surge of adrenaline that comes from speaking well”.

I remember watching a certain
Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) as he marshalled his arguments before the
court, not only was I impressed by his command of the English language but the
clarity of his speech and ability to communicate the case of his client to the
court without mincing words or using unnecessary expletives provoked in me and
other counsel in court that day a high level of admiration. Judges have a very
short attention life-span usually because they have to listen and write almost
all what the litigants and lawyers say, if you say too many stories that
touch the bone marrow
waste their time by puffing too much smoke without
saying anything useful to your clients case, they tend to zone out. It’s
crucial you express yourself briefly while at the same time marshalling out
your points. It’s no gain saying that a judge will hardly pay attention to a
lawyer that cannot speak well.

Nigerian Supreme Court

“Every trial lawyer
must have rules of evidence carefully filed in his memory because during a
trial there is rarely time to look them up. If you try lawsuits for a living,
you will literally lie in the world of so – called proof. It is perhaps best to
understand right here that most cases are decided on something less than strict
proof. If something is so clear that it is really “proven”, it probably won’t
even be in contention during trial”.

Recently, in the National
Industrial Court, I witnessed two opposing counsel trash out the rules of
evidence in open court, the Plaintiff’s counsel sought to tender a document
through its witness and the Defendant’s counsel objected on the grounds that
the document was inadmissible, for about 6 minutes, both lawyers argued back
and forth before the judge made a Ruling in favour of the Defendant. If the
Defendant’s Counsel did not know his rules of evidence, it is safe to assume
that the Plaintiff will have tendered an inadmissible document which would have
been adverse to the case of the Defence.

“When you begin to
go to court for a living, the most common shortcoming you will see in your
colleagues and opponents will be just such lack of preparation. Pre-trial
preparation has often been compared to a part of the ice berg that sank the
Titanic, namely the part that was underwater (about 87% of the whole). You may
not be able to see it from a distance, but you know damned well it’s there. The
trial itself is like the portion that sticks up out of the water for all to
see. Preparation is exhausting, painstaking, and occasionally heartbreaking
work, but it is an absolute duty that a trial lawyer owes to his client”.

I once appeared before a High
Court basking in confidence, I assumed I was ready for the day’s proceedings
and was looking forward to trashing outwit opposing counsel with my
arguments. Imagine my surprise when the opposing counsel argued his points from
a rule of procedure I had not expected nor researched. The judge made a decision
in his favour and I lost. That day hurt, LOL, I experienced what over –
confidence and lack of adequate preparation could do to a lawyer first hand, maybe
the sinister smile from a law school class mate who was on the opposing side as
we walked out of court also made it worse, the smile said I beat you and
stuck its tongue out
. I have always ensured I prepare adequately for
proceedings in court since that day.

Hard-work does not kill, as a
lawyer you must be ready for long hours of research, critical thinking and you
must never give up. You must always believe there is always a way and you must
get busy trying to find that way in other to win your case in court, legally of
course not through bribery or other unwholesome practices.

Finally, you must be responsible
for your career growth as a lawyer, seniors do not expect to spoon feed on the
job and they expect a certain level of ability from you. Personally, I take
responsibility for my career by ensuring I develop myself daily in the
following aspects: Advocacy; Use of English; Legal Drafting; Law practice
management and Networking. You may want to create your own list and get on with
developing your skills in those regard.

Becoming a great trial lawyer is
not a days’ job, it takes a very long time to horn your skills to perfection, more
reason why you should start now. If you know any other great tip for being
a good trial lawyer, don’t hesitate to write them in the comment box, a great
lawyer must be ready to learn daily and i will like to learn from you too.

Adedunmade Onibokun, Esq