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10 Things every trial lawyer needs

We trial lawyers are an eclectic bunch. No two of us work the same way, and each of us has charted our own path to professional and personal success. But I believe there are at least 10 main reasons for the long-term success of every accomplished trial lawyer I’ve ever known. For a definition of “success,” I paraphrase Bob Dylan: People are successful if they get up in the morning and go to bed at night and in between do what they want to do.

Here are the top 10 things no trial lawyer—new or not so new—should be without.

  1. Good health. Without a strong, vigorous, resilient mind and body, a trial lawyer will not survive the stresses of litigation and trial. You can’t take care of your clients if you don’t take care of yourself. So follow Mom’s advice: Eat healthy, exercise, and get plenty of rest.

  2. Support at home. Personal injury trial work can be emotionally draining. A shoulder to lean on, a listening ear, or a kind word will keep you from lapsing into funks that will destroy your health and impair your work. Even if you’re a “lone wolf,” you need some source of emotional stability at your home base.

  3. Support at the office. Put a bookkeeper or certified public accountant and a legal assistant at the top of your must-have list of staff. Without capable people in these positions, you will waste time and money, lose the respect of your clients and colleagues, and—worse—risk serious ethical and malpractice problems.

  4. A backer or banker. A lawyer’s ability to wage litigation war often depends on his or her ability to tap a cash reserve or a reliable lending source. Look for companies that provide a full range of banking services, especially loans, designed specifically for trial lawyers. The AAJ Extras program includes several affinity partners that offer services you may want to consider (visit

  5. A reliable network, on- and offline. I have seen fine, intelligent young lawyers burn out and even leave the legal profession because they lacked a good network of role models and colleagues from whom they could get help, advice, and referrals. Available networks are all around you. If you’re not sure how to start building your own, AAJ is a good place to start—consider joining a section or litigation group related to your practice, for example (visit and Your state trial lawyer association is another resource.

  6. A good gumshoe. Without a good investigator, potentially solid cases become weak and impossible to win. You can do some investigation online, but the best witnesses and evidence can only be found by what the Marines call “boots on the ground.”

  7. Software and support. You don’t need every package out there, but you do need reliable, efficient equipment—computers, conference phones, copiers, and so on—to save you and your staff time, money, and sanity. My firm uses Needles, Abacus Data, and Race Point Legal. Whatever system you use, be sure to have someone on staff or on call who can troubleshoot it for you.

  8. A marketing plan. Without a plan for marketing to new clients and establishing name recognition, you will wind up working for other lawyers—the ones who did have a marketing plan.

  9. Legal life boats. All lawyers—not just newbies—need time-saving tools to keep from drowning in a sea of paperwork, deadlines, and hearings. Two systems that my firm relies on are Dragon Voice Recognition (available at or and Remote Counsel videoconferencing, which is available from Courtroom Connect (

  10. The right research tools. If you don’t thoroughly research your case, you’ll be embarrassed and outflanked by the opposition every time. AAJ members can consult the AAJ Exchange ( to find case law, forms, transcripts, articles, and other materials provided by lawyers who have successfully tried similar cases.

Consider investing in a subscription to one of the major online legal research services, like Westlaw. In addition to giving you access to case law and other basic legal sources, they can help you track down facts about your adversaries and opposing experts, and their mobile applications allow you to take your research with you to court or depositions. Another online tool, Trial Smith, provides overnight access to depositions and trial transcripts, and fast access to juror backgrounds for voir dire.

Consider these the basic building blocks of your success as a trial lawyer. You won’t be able to acquire all of them overnight, but you can focus on these and not get distracted by the multiple shiny, tempting toys out there that are not truly necessary. Focus on these necessities first, and watch yourself become one of the few, the proud—the trial lawyers.

Tom Vesper is a partner in Westmoreland, Vesper & Quattrone in West Atlantic City, New Jersey. He can be reached at The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not constitute an endorsement of any product by Trial or AAJ.

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