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A Wolf in The Courtroom

“Man is not man, but a wolf to those he does not know.”

-Plautus

As a trial lawyer one of your most important goals is to “persuade juries,” (Berg, 2006). In order to do so this requires a certain level of confidence and bravado that some attorneys are natural born with and others are not. Effective trial lawyers must possess a commanding presence, be versed in the art of persuasion, retain a large amount of relevant information, and most importantly remain in control under pressure (Bennett, 2014).  Even if these skills aren’t in your repertoire, you can work to obtain these vital skills through targeted practice. Practice your opening statement prior to going to trial so that once you enter the courtroom your delivery and performance is automatic. Once your performance becomes automatic you will be able to calm your nerves and focus on just performing.

Revert back to the art of studying that you had in law school. Observe lawyers that you admire and make a list of the reasons why. Then take that list and work on incorporating those skills into your execution. Be as detailed as possible, don’t just say “this person is good at communicating to the jury,” postulate why that is. Once you’ve established a working understanding of what makes your mentors and/or role models successful practice those skills often. As was previously mentioned, practice leads to automaticity and automaticity helps when it comes time to perform.

Remember, your performance in the courtroom begins way before the jury enters the room. A good habit to get into is including your practice in your pre-performance routine. A good pre-performance routine can help you obtain high level of achievement during the trial (Lidor & Tenenbaum, 1993). A pre-performance routine (PPR) is any systematic pre-planned sequence done before a routine that can help you mentally prepare for a performance. The possibilities for a PPR are endless simply because a pre-performance routine is unique to you. Besides practicing the skills of exemplary lawyers prior to performance other examples of things you could do for a pre-performance routine can include organizing case information, doing deep breathing exercises, and practicing your opening statement while using imagery to simulate the courtroom environment. You may already be doing some of these things which is great! Focus now on fine tuning your PPR so that it is consistent and facilitative for good performance.

Once you enter the courtroom, you enter an arena. Now is the time harness your passion for your client, your preparation of relevant case information and law, and become a wolf.  Wolves are very intelligent creatures who possess the potential for aggression while also balancing that with elements of calm. As a trial lawyer you must approach your performance in the same way. You must know when it is important to be aggressive and when it’s best to exude quiet confidence. As you have spent months and sometimes years preparing for this moment, it is essential that you approach this with the finesse and skill that your client deserves. Put aside your ego, and remember what is driving you in this trial. Use that as your motivation to perform well and most importantly as motivation when you feel drained.

Being a trial lawyer is draining both physically, mentally, and emotionally. You will know that you have given it your all when you experience this complete fatigue. Each day you may feel consumed by the trial and its effects on your life. In those moments, close your eyes and take deep breath. Acknowledge that the trial process is difficult but also remind yourself your motivation for being present. With each breath, release the tension and your feelings associated with the day. Once you’ve done so it is time to refocus. Take what is relevant to yourself and the case and most importantly, leave the rest behind. While you are a wolf in the courtroom, there is no room for one in your everyday life.

 

PhD Student in Sports Psychology at Florida State University. Ashley Fryer.

Ashley Fryer, PhD Student in Sport Psychology at Florida State University.

 

Note: This essay was written by Ashley Fryer, PhD Student in Sport Psychology at Florida State University. amf13d@my.fsu.edu

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Attorney Don Pumphrey, Jr.

Attorney Don Pumphrey Jr. is a former prosecutor, former law enforcement officer, and a successful and experienced criminal defense attorney.

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