Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi reportedly said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Similarly, in the courtroom the criminal trial lawyer’s credibility isn’t everything . . . It IS the only thing. Without credibility a defense attorney cannot hope to score points with the judge or jury. Importantly, this credibility is built very slowly, one small step at a time. It’s secured only through tireless and difficult effort – but the payoffs are worth the sacrifice.
So how does the Bryan-College Station defense attorney develop credibility in the courtroom when each time we walk in we face a group of people who question our motives? They assume we’ll never permit the truth to stand in the way of victory. These same people believe a lawyer, especially a criminal defense attorney, will lie in court to promote their cause. But if a trial is a credibility contest, how does the defense attorney establish they are the one lawyer in the room who should be trusted?
Trial lawyers begin by always being genuine and telling the truth. The lawyer cannot afford to prevaricate about anything. Each statement uttering from our lips during trial must be completely accurate . . . even if it hurts. If we’re in a situation seeming to call for a “little white lie,” we take the road less traveled and say nothing. The moment the jury believes we are being untruthful, our credibility is gone forever.
However, honesty alone is not enough. Credibility requires honesty and knowledge. The Bryan defense lawyer must know more about the case than anyone else in the courtroom. Every statement we make during trial must be correct. This can only happen when our preparation has been exhaustive. If we make mistakes we lose hard earned credibility with the jury. So minimize mistakes by mastering the facts.
But mastering the facts and legal issues in a case is difficult work, especially when the lawyer is busy juggling other cases and handling the practical aspects of running a law practice. What’s the answer? First, be selective about the cases you accept. I understand this is a difficult task, especially for younger attorneys working to build successful practices. But there are only so many hours in a day. Too many cases means less time to spend preparing each. Sure it’s a balancing act, but successful attorneys learn to master the process. Next, be willing to work harder and longer than your opponent. Commit yourself to NEVER being outworked by your adversary. They may have better facts . . . but you will know the facts better. Use your knowledge to develop critical credibility. Utilizing this work ethic gives you the knowledge necessary to compliment your honesty in the courtroom. Honesty + Knowledge = Credibility.
Once earned, protect your courtroom credibility at all costs. Your ability to persuade a jury depends upon it. Be genuine, be honest, and know the facts better than anyone else. During final argument you’ll stand confidently, making your case, knowing you did your job with excellence.
Stephen Gustitis is a criminal defense lawyer in Bryan-College Station. He is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a husband, father, and retired amateur bicycle racer.