How does one develop leadership skills? If you are a litigator, you need only look at the skills you use every day in your law practice. The world of litigation is not a place for the timid. Cases last for years, petty fights ensue, professionalism fades. By the end of a case, it truly feels as if a war has ended. And those are the good cases. The skills used to be a good litigator are also the skills needed to be a great leader. The trenches of litigation is where you can truly develop these skills.
What are the skills needed to be a good litigator?
Organization skills may be the most important piece to successfully manage and litigate a case. Litigators must organize facts, documents, and dates into a story that makes sense to a judge or a jury. In addition to organizing the facts, a litigator must be able to organize a team for the case. Most cases need more than just one attorney, and require assistants, paralegals, experts, and others necessary to litigate the action, depending on the size of the case. Selection of your associates or partners on the case, as well as your paralegal or other professionals, is critical. The same is true in leading an organization, board or committee. Organization is key to develop your plan for leading the direction of the organization, and the team to implement that plan.
Litigation is usually the result of poor communication between parties. As the attorney, you must have good communication skills to resolve this problem. Litigators must be able to communicate different messages to different audiences. You need to communicate with your clients, opposing counsel, witnesses, the court, and your litigation team, and the communication skills needed for each of these audiences are very different. The messages that you need to communicate to each are not only different, but sometimes are at odds. This is true in a leadership setting as well, depending on the organization or the setting. A good leader cannot lead without effective communication skills and the ability to communicate to a variety of audiences with different messages.
Without confidence, you cannot succeed in litigation. Your client must believe that you believe in his, her or its case. You must show the opposing side that you believe in your client’s facts and your legal argument. Most importantly, you must have the confidence to sell your client’s side of the story and your legal argument to the judge and/or the jury. Similarly, you must have confidence in yourself and in the organization to effectively lead.
Lawyers are known for hating change, but, in litigation you have to be ready for big changes, at any time. Witnesses change their stories, documents appear and disappear, and judges make stunning rulings. In short, things happen that can shake up years of following a carefully crafted litigation plan. Your case can be disrupted by one small act, or one small fact, so the ability to think fast and adapt is crucial. Similarly, as a leader, you must be willing to change as a leader as the needs of your organization change. Whether it involves issues related to personnel, the economy, or the overall environment of the organization, you must be willing and able to accept and make change.
Cases that go to trial or that are heavily litigated have issues that are in the “gray area.” If the case goes to trial, everyone usually knows that each side likely has a 50/50 shot to win. As a trial lawyer, you must be creative to maximize your chance of winning. Creativity also may be needed early in litigation, such as in cases where you and your client may know that you have no shot at winning. Creativity can help find a way to solve your client’s problem without spending a lot of money and without losing the case. Creativity also is important for a leader . You must find a way to change direction, or change the mindset within your organization, when problems arise.
Many lawyer jokes are built around dishonesty of lawyers, but especially in litigation, building integrity and honesty is crucial. The court, law clerks, and other lawyers must trust you. The same is true for leaders – if you are not trusted, no one will follow you,, and your organization cannot grow and succeed.
These are some of the many skills needed to be a great litigator and trial lawyer. These are also common traits for great leaders. If you ever doubt your ability to be a leader, think about the skills you use daily, and use those courtroom skills to develop yourself into a better future leader.
About the Author
Amy Drushal is a litigator and shareholder at Trenam Law in Tampa, Florida, and is a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board. She can be reached at 813.227.7463 or ADrushal@trenam.com.