The trigger for this post was my need to prepare some paperwork for a client recently. It had been a few months since I had done this particular paperwork and, I’ll admit, I felt rusty. Rusty in the sense that it wasn’t as smooth a process as I would have preferred. When I realized it felt rusty, Neil Young’s phrase, turned album title (1979), Rust Never Sleeps came to mind – that’s just how my mind works sometimes. With acknowledgment of Mr. Young’s contribution, I wanted to talk about this phenomenon. It is difficult for a person to always be ready to go at 100% to do a myriad of tasks. Certainly, a more narrow set of tasks is more likely to result in reducing rust. But, in my case, running a business, there are things I do often, things I do monthly, things I do annually, and things I do as needed. Staying fresh with all of these tasks is challenging. At a minimum, refreshing my memory is sometimes required. And, I’m talking mostly about mental tasks. Staying sharp at physical tasks is probably more demanding and is the reason that first responders and military personnel train constantly. Steven Covey, in his 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, lists “Sharpen the Saw” as Habit 7. I previously wrote about this 5 or so years ago (https://magnusinsights.com/2016/08/sharpening-the-saw/). But, the other day, I was wishing there was a WD-40 spray to help me reduce my rustiness. This lead me to think about how our clients are faring in terms of trial skills. Are they keeping the saw sharp? The last 2 years with a raging pandemic has dramatically changed the world of trial lawyers. How do they keep their skills polished for when they do get back to trial? The somewhat obvious answer, to me, is mock trials. Sure, this a “commercial” for what we do at Magnus, but it is more critical than ever for trial lawyers, and their clients (especially if their clients are, for example, insurance adjusters) to be on top of their game and up to date, with minimal rust, when it comes time to use their trial skills. Hey hey, my my.
I like David’s reference to a Neil Young song! “Hey hey, my my. Rock and roll will never die.” What great lyrics! However, to get to the point of David’s post instead of singing along with Neil Young, I will pose a rhetorical question: How does one hone trial skills without practicing? Sitting around, resting on one’s laurels, while reminiscing about the trial that was won 10, 5, or 2 years ago does nothing with regard to preparing to win the next trial. Sure, it may stroke the ego or impress other people who hear stories about the last “big win,” however, the client who has the pending case derives no benefit from this sort of activity. Most people who hire attorneys to represent them in the cases on which Magnus is retained are results oriented. They want to know how their lawyer is going to maximize their outcome on this case, right now. Due to the infrequency with which many attorneys actually go to the courthouse to try cases, there is no way, I repeat, no way, for them to stay abreast of all the developments in knowledge about jury behavior, trial technology, etc. without practicing their skills. Many years ago, one of Magnus’ long time clients retained us for a voir dire rehearsal, including a coaching session that required me to work closely with him. At the time, this client was one of the most famous attorneys in the Southeastern United States and he was, and still is, a billionaire as the result of his tremendous successes in the courtroom. I asked him what he could possibly hope to learn from me, in consideration of the fact that he must have been doing something right to be hugely successful. His answer was that he had not taken a case to trial in a few years, he was rusty, and if he learned only one valuable lesson from me, it would be something that would benefit all of his future clients. For this client, and others who are knowledgeable about working with Magnus to improve trial skills, rusting away is not an option.