Master Your Craft

~ Adapted from a speech written by Matthew Terry ~ 

How to become a great lawyer: Simple Formula. Remember why you were hired. Remember what the client really expects and believes – why they came to you and what they inherently expect from you. 

Identify, clearly, what the problem is… and solve it.

The client – any client – comes to a lawyer because they expect (although this is not always the case, unfortunately) that the lawyer possesses certain abilities and skills that the client does not. More than that, they hire the lawyer to perform their craft – that craft defined by the concept of fiduciary duty. Not only do most lawyers lose sight of their fiduciary duty to their client, but they lose sight of how to perform that fiduciary duty.

A fiduciary duty is the “highest standard of care at either equity or law. There is an expectation of extreme loyalty to the person to whom he owes the duty (the principal): he must never put his personal interests before the duty… The word itself comes originally from the Latin fides, meaning faith, and fiducia, meaning trust.”

The Samurai were hired as an elite class of warriors to protect the feudal lords and their land. They were expected to be the absolute perfect ideal of a warrior – fully committed and expected to die for their principal. The notion of fiduciary duty was central to that relationship. Even though it was a fiduciary-principal, financial relationship, the Samurai had a complete commitment to that principal – not only to fight to the death, but to train their minds and bodies to provide the ultimate service and perform their craft.

How to keep the customer happy? Master your craft. Become a master of your craft. And before you can master your craft, you have to explicitly identify what is required of you and what skills you are expected to master.

Your client comes to you because you have abilities that the average layperson does not. As a lawyer, as a trial lawyer, the master of his craft has the following:

  • an ability to articulate their position far better than the client can; an expert ability to speak the language and use the language to persuade the prosecutor, judge or jury;
  • a total understanding of the law as it pertains to the client’s case – all of its intricacies, including the potential counter arguments – essentially, to be able to defend against the attack of your adversary;
  • a total understanding and comprehension for the facts of the case – to know that case inside and out; better than anyone else in the courtroom;
  • most important, a sense of the warrior ethos; an appreciation of the relationship between you and your client and the role you play. You are the only entity standing between the massive resources & power of the government and the client being prosecuted. You are expected to be able to withstand that pressure, emotionally and skillfully, to redirect the focus of where the actual burden of proof belongs. You are expected to fight without a self-conscious fear of failure.

To master your craft, to be the absolute best lawyer you can be, you have to get in the fight. You have to expose your flesh for the inevitable battle scars. You cannot become a warrior and protector of your client unless you have both training and experience in battle. And the battles of our craft take place in the trial courtroom.

When you became a trial lawyer, did you aspire to be a courtroom brawler – renowned throughout your locale for your skill, experience and dedication? Did you want to be that trial lawyer that never tries a case but lives a life of falsity and fraud — daily — as you sell the services you have no intention to provide? How many people know these lawyers?

And who knows these lawyers better than anyone? The prosecution. The prosecutors know who tries cases and who doesn’t. They know who wins cases. And they know what lawyers are trial shy or even worse – virtually never go to trial. They love those guys.

But, as in any negotiation, you need leverage. And what leverage can you hold when you never try cases? What leverage do you hold if you never win cases? 

You need to try cases – regularly – to get the plea bargains your clients deserve. You need to get in a few bloody fights to build that essential credibility with the prosecution. You need to try cases to become a great lawyer.

We all have 24 hours in our day and the key question we must ask ourselves is this: how we will allocate that time? As business owners and as lawyers, we ask ourselves the question: is my time better spent studying Pozner & Dodd, honing my craft, prepping my cases, immersing myself within my client’s case? Or is it better spent writing false reviews online about my false practice of law? Will the internet tricks and gimmicks bring me the money? Or will being the absolute best lawyer in my locale bring me the business? We all know the answer to that question.

Master your craft. Become a skilled advocate, a thoroughly educated advocate with verbal skills beyond comprehension and a warrior’s spirit in the daily performance of your craft. Remember why you became a lawyer – why you chose the path that 90% of lawyers reject – that of the trial lawyer. You didn’t do it to become what so many have become. You chose that path because you wanted – at some point – to become that hired Samurai who masters his craft and performs it with a smile while the rest look on in astonishment.

To finish, it’s illustrative to re-visit a portion of the Rifleman’s Creed of the Marine Corps Infantry – as the trial lawyer’s craft is essentially the Marine’s rifle:

This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life. My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will….

My rifle and myself know that what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit…

Master your craft. Master your craft. Try cases and negotiate with leverage. Master your case, the law, your ability and yourself. Pledge allegiance to your fiduciary duty.  Identify & solve your client’s problem. Truly master your craft and everything will fall into place.


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