Pearls of Wisdom

The conduct of a trial is not for the faint of heart. It is stressful, time consuming work. In its March 2009 cover story entitled “7 over 70, Lions of the Trial Bar”, the American Bar Association Journal profiled seven of the most distinguished trial lawyers in the United States, all of them over 70 years old. Herewith are some of the gems.

Bernard Nussbaum, New York City, New York: “Nussbaum says good settlements hinge on the opponent realizing that you are not afraid to take the case to trial, as well as your own client recognizing the risks that come with a trial.”

“At the end of the day, we convinced the judge that we were the good guys and that they were the bad guys. Most cases, despite all the technicalities, come down to that; Did your client act in good faith or bad faith.”

Joe Jamail, Houston,Texas: “Today’s law schools teach students how not to get emotionally involved in their cases. That’s bullshit. If you are not emotionally involved, your client is not getting your best effort.”

James Neal, Nashville, Tennessee: “They didn’t understand how much I hate losing. Yeah, I love winning. But I hate losing even more. Just the thought of losing makes my body shrink from 5’8” to 5’6”.”

“[Jimmy] Hoffa was even a tough old bird on the witness stand. He had the same answer to every question I asked: ‘To the best of my recollection, I do not recollect.’”

Fred Bartlit, Chicago, Illinois: “Jurors are like us. They hate not understanding things. They appreciate and trust the people – be it lawyers or witnesses – who help them better understand the facts and the meaning of the case.”

“I tell our young lawyers the one thing we know jurors do is evaluate everyone in court, and they don’t trust phonies. So always be yourself.”

Bobby Lee Cook, Summerville, Georgia (82 years old): “I’m having the best and most productive year of my career. I enjoy waking up every morning and kicking somebody in the ass that needs it.”

“The law practice has changed so much. The law is viewed as a business these days and not as a noble profession. Law firms are operated as banks. I know partners at big law firms who have never tried a case to a jury. I didn’t become a lawyer to get rich, but I’m doing OK.”

“If you can railroad a bad man to prison, you can railroad a good man. That’s why we should always vigorously fight for the constitutional rights of even those who are most despised in our communities.”

James Brosnahan, San Francisco, California: “Brosnahan turned 75 in January, but he has no plans to slow down. He has four jury trials and two non-jury trials already scheduled for this year.”

“Brosnahan says his decision to try all kinds of cases – civil and criminal – has allowed him and trial lawyers of his generation to gain the courtroom experiences that following generations have not had.”

Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, Houston, Texas: “For Haynes, the courtroom is always a place for theatre. He re-enacts crime scenes. He mimics opposing counsel. He shouts, screams and dances. He waves around murder weapons – be they guns or cattle prods.”

“There was a trial in the 1970’s in which the prosecutor refused to call a witness because he knew Haynes would tear him apart on cross-examination. Furious, Haynes used his closing argument to cross-examine an empty witness chair, asking the same probing questions he would have asked the absentee witness. The stunt was effective; again, the jury acquitted on all counts.”