To a Criminal Defense Lawyer Who Just Lost a Case


I’ll tell you a little secret that most lawyers don’t seem to realize: our losses make the best war stories; the cases you win are, but for the things that went wrong, not stories worth telling.

When you’ve lost a jury trial, I don’t want to hear about how your client, your investigator, the judge, or anyone else’s screwups led to the conviction.

I don’t want to hear how it was a tough case. They’re all tough cases. We’ve got a name for lawyers who try easy cases: “prosecutors”. Our adversaries get to pick the cases we try, and they like to win.

Did you make mistakes? Sure you did. Nobody ever tries a perfect case and loses. Nobody ever tries a perfect case and wins, either — whether you find it or not, there’s always a hair in the food. If you go on and on telling me about the bad facts, you’re avoiding talking about the things you could have done better.

If you are at all self-aware, you can name a couple of such things. If you’re going to talk about the trial, those are what I want you to tell me about. Not so that I can judge you, but so that I can learn from you. If you tell me the mistakes you made, I won’t think less of you — to the contrary, I’ll be impressed by your ability to see and acknowledge your errors —  but I will be less likely to make the same mistakes myself.

If you can’t admit your mistakes, you’ve got larger problems than just that case. Unless you recognize your errors, you are doomed to repeat them.

Audiences love performers who screw up goodnaturedly. Blaming someone else for a loss is either trite (because, c’mon, how often are our clients in court because they always behaved appropriately?) or churlish. The lawyer who talks about how everyone else screwed up the trial is a boor; the lawyer who talks about how he screwed it up is a teacher.

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0 responses to “To a Criminal Defense Lawyer Who Just Lost a Case”

  1. Wonderful post. I bought his book at your suggestion and love it. The example about McCain is great too and it was amazing how when he relaxed and laughed at himself he was so likable, after the election was over. But when he tried so damn hard in those debates he came across as a grumpy old man. The first thing I thought upon seeing him be so funny after the election was that if he could have pulled that off he would have won.

  2. I absolutely agree you have to analyze the decisions you made and the mistakes you made and think about what you would have done differently, but if you’re not willing to hear your fellow defender bitch about the tough breaks they were dealt by outside forces, to hell with ya. They have a name for people who complain about judges, da’s, cops and juries and the stacked deck of laws we have to contend with incessantly among one another: public defenders.

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