Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 40

ON FURTHER RE VIEW

TRIAL LAWYERS,
AGGRESSION
& HUMILITY
By Lloyd Liu

W

hat makes a good trial
lawyer? How do you
become an effective trial
lawyer? These are pretty basic
questions that are often answered
in opaque terms: thinking on one's
feet, having "the fire or not,"1 or
being clear. I'm sure others can
think of a dozen different descriptions. All of them are true, but these
observations aren't descriptive
enough, leaving some of us to
divine what these ideas mean in
practice. My objective in this series
is to help unpack some of this tacit
knowledge by talking to seasoned
trial lawyers. Any failings to better
explain these qualities are mine.

Bill Coffield, a partner at Berliner Corcoran
& Rowe LLP, has been a trial lawyer for over
30 years. If you look him up, you'll see he has
represented clients that you would recognize,
including high-level government officials (some
from the White House and U.S. Congress) as
well as corporations, corporate directors, and
officers of major foreign and multinational
companies.
I had the chance to talk with Bill about how
effective trial lawyers are able to regulate their
own behavior and better manage their biases
and weak spots. We started the conversation
discussing the late and incomparable Jake Stein.
I'm not sure Jake needs any further introduction. He passed away last year, and his obituary
is a starting point to understanding his legacy
in the trial community.2 Here's what Bill had to
say about what made Jake effective:
Jake was always very practical. He was
charming, and he had full command of the
facts. He didn't get rattled, and he would kill
you with kindness. He wasn't a combative
kind of guy, and early on, when I was practicing law, I noticed that.
Watching both sides, Bill learned that there
were lawyers who got very combative early
on, and there were those who didn't and were
"methodical about how they asked questions
and knew the record very well."
Lawyer temperament affects jury perception.
"When someone gets combative, it's just a
natural human reaction: fight or flight. Even
if you're sitting in a jury box, this affects the
way a juror is processing this information," Bill said.

40 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2020

There are instances where aggression is necessary, Bill offered, but "coming right out of the
box beating up a witness doesn't work 90
percent of the time. ... There comes a point
when the jury wants you to push back. But
it's only after the witness has clearly crossed
the line."
Bill's perspective echoes a story about a prosecutor who always started with Exhibit B. When
a judge once asked him where Exhibit A was,
he pointed to himself and said, "Your Honor,
I'm Exhibit A." It's a cute story and almost certainly apocryphal, but it nevertheless makes
its point: An attorney's temperament sends an
important message. There's a bit of a spectrum,
however. On one end, there's the attorney who
doesn't have enough insight to modulate his
behavior, and on the other, the attorney whose
mannerisms come across as too studied, too
constructed.
But coming back to Bill's point about aggression. If deploying aggression early is a bad idea,
then why do we continue to see attorneys
approach litigation that way? Bill's thoughts
on this: "Sometimes it's just a person's personality. Sometimes people are just pre-wired
to do that. I think they convince themselves
that if they lose a case, there was another
reason why."
Bill's observation prompts us to think about
how we analyze our own tactics and strategies. Embedded in his response is a thorny
issue about identifying cause and effect in trial
and confusing correlation with cause. You
might be successful because you have



Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar Of Events
The Opioid Litigation Wars
The Art Of Wellness: Law Firms Get Creative
Combating Secondary Trauma
Debating The Path Forward On Health Care Reform
Taking The Stand
On Further Review
Member Spotlight
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Speaking Of Ethics
Disciplinary Summaries
Community & Connections
Special Section: Counting Down To The 2020 Conference
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 1
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 2
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 3
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 5
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 7
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 9
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 11
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Calendar Of Events
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 13
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - The Opioid Litigation Wars
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 15
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 16
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 17
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 18
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 19
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - The Art Of Wellness: Law Firms Get Creative
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 21
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 22
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 23
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 24
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 25
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Combating Secondary Trauma
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 27
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 28
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 29
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 30
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 31
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Debating The Path Forward On Health Care Reform
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 33
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 34
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 35
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 36
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 37
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Taking The Stand
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 39
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 41
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 43
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 44
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 46
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Speaking Of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 49
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Special Section: Counting Down To The 2020 Conference
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 53
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 54
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 55
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover4
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