Winning at Trial by D. Shane Read is a trial practice book published in 2007. Some people have described it as “the best” trial advocacy book. I agree.
The book is stunningly good. It is basic enough to be used in law school trial practice classes and deep enough to benefit experienced lawyers. I own at least five trial practice books. If I had to choose just one to keep, this would be it.
Winning at Trial is a classic that will be used by lawyers and law students for many years to come. Practicing attorneys who are not implementing the book’s concepts in their trials are at a disadvantage to those who are.
One recurring theme of the book is that the book used in my law school trial practice class (Mauet’s Fundamentals of Trial Techniques) often gets it wrong. An example is Mauet advising to be subtle and careful on cross examination and Read countering to drive your points home and not save major points for closing. I completely agree with Read. It is best to not wait until closing to drive points home for many reasons, including that jurors usually decide before closing.
Read starts his chapter on closing with the section “the overrated importance of closing argument.” Read’s point is that by the time of closing most jurors have already made up their mind. I agree. In my experience, you can feel it in the courtroom that jurors have decided even though most times you don’t know what the decision is.
Key points that Read emphasizes include:
- conducting focus groups of cases is important
- develop your own style [Gerry Spence fans will agree]
- tell a compelling story no matter which side you represent [defense lawyers sometimes fail to tell a story and simply try to prevent the plaintiff from telling their story—a sure losing strategy]
- be prepared [in my opinion lawyers who think that they can make up for poor preparation are kidding themselves]
- less is more [in my opinion losing sight of this is the most common mistake by trial lawyers]
- argue passionately and with integrity [most lawyers do this in Mississippi]
As examples of good and bad trial practice the book uses excerpts from the OJ Simpson criminal and civil trials and the Timothy McVeigh trial. The books also includes a DVD with clips from these trials.
If I was managing the litigation section of a large law firm, I would require the firm’s litigation associates to read the book and implement its concepts in their practices.
There is a website for the book that you can access here.