As a trial lawyer it is hard to get real feedback on your trial performance. This is because people are naturally averse to giving negative feedback even when it is called for. People may feel that if they give you real feedback they will damage a friendship or a business relationship.
While it is nice for our egos to hear how great we performed in our last trial, positive feedback does nothing to improve our skills. Because of this, you have to become a master of self-critique. To help you do this I will share with you the system that I use.
Have A Trial Performance Blueprint
Before going into the trial you should have a trial performance blueprint. That is a set of factors that you are looking to evaluate yourself on. Basically, things that you are aiming for in your performance. Your opening should be passionate. Your tone and pace should be effective. Your eye contact should be engaging. Your cross should be tight and clean. Whatever your goals are for your performance should be set out ahead of time. If you do it this way you can then look back over the trial and honestly grade yourself. You can go back and determine: Was my opening passionate? Was my tone and pace effective? Was my eye contact engaging? Was my cross tight and clean?
The answers to these questions are simple enough. All you need to do is to be honest with yourself.
Evaluate Your Trial Performance As If Was Someone Else’s
Critiquing yourself could be one of the hardest things to do. Specially for us trial lawyers–we all think we are the best trial lawyers to ever grace the courtroom. That’s why when evaluating my trial performance I think about it as if I was evaluating someone else. For example: If this opening had been delivered by someone else, how would I feel about it? What kind of advice or critique would I have for that person?
It is amazing how this simple technique helps you in engaging in an effective self-assessment.
Evaluate Your Trial Performance Against Your Previous Performances
Your previous trials should serve as a measuring stick. Compare your last performance to the ones you have put on before. If you are in the pursuit of trial greatness your last performance should be better than any you’ve put on before. (Bad days aside, everyone has an off day). By keeping track of your previous performances you should have a pretty accurate and objective measuring stick to evaluate your current performance and progress.
Evaluate Your Trial Performance Before The Verdict
While trial performance and verdict are related you should not use a verdict to evaluate whether you put on a good trial. And you should definitely not wait till the verdict to run your self-evaluation. That’s because confirmation bias is a very real thing in us people. Once you get a winning verdict you look back at your performance and you see it through the prism of “it was good enough to win.” This is a fatal mistake. You can put on a terrible performance and still win some trials.
The opposite is also true. Sometimes you put on a hell of a trial and get a bad verdict. If you evaluate your performance through the prism of a bad verdict you may find yourself second guessing parts of your performance that were very good.
Evaluate your performance before the verdict. You can tell whether you put on a hell of a trial or whether you fumbled it way before the jury even goes into the deliberation room.