Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 34

ON FURTHER RE VIEW

TRAITS
OF THE GREATS
By Lloyd Liu

A

fter more than 20 years as a
federal trial court judge, Mark
W. Bennett1 wrote an article
about his observations of litigators
in the courtroom. In it he noted, "Trial
lawyers' major problem is that most
of them tell stories like lawyers and
not [like] storytellers." He identified
these eight traits of highly effective
trial lawyers: "(1) unsurpassed storytelling skills, (2) gritty determination
to become a great trial lawyer,
(3) virtuoso cross-examination skills,
(4) slavish preparation, (5) unfailing
courtesy, (6) refined listening skills,
(7) unsurpassed judgment, and
(8) reasonableness."2
When I recently spoke with Daniel Rezneck,
senior assistant attorney general for the District
of Columbia, he shared a series of anecdotes
about notable D.C. trial lawyers, snippets that
touch on many of the characteristics Judge
Bennett described. Rezneck has been previously profiled as a Legend in the Law by the
D.C. Bar, and rightly so. He clerked for U.S.
Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan,
served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the
District of Columbia, and worked with luminaries such as Abe Fortas, Paul Porter, and
Thurman Arnold at what is now Arnold & Porter
LLP. He also served as president of the D.C. Bar
and has taught at Georgetown University Law
Center for more than 50 years. Also, Rezneck
is a legal historian, both a student of and a
witness to historical figures and events. We
had a wide-ranging conversation reflecting
on influential trial lawyers.

34 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

JUNE 2020

Rezneck provided a few vignettes of what
made lawyers such as Edward Bennett Williams,
William B. Bryant, and others great. Of Williams,
founding partner of Williams & Connolly LLP,
Rezneck remarked, "He was the best, no doubt
about it. He was tremendously well prepared.
He had a photographic memory. He could cite
page after page of testimony without even
looking at it, and he never forgot anything."
Rezneck noted, though, that Williams's innate
gifts were matched by fervor and an understanding of subtext. "[Williams] was intense.
He got himself into his peak as a performer.
When he tried a criminal case, it was always
just him and the defendant at counsel table.
There might have been 30 people in the back
working on the case, but he never showed
their faces in the courtroom. Williams was
sending a message to the jury that it was only
him between the mass power of the government. It was a pretty effective message."
Williams also had a natural knack with character
witnesses. Rezneck cited the time Williams was
representing John Connally, the former secretary of the Treasury and governor of Texas who
was accused of bribery. "Williams had a whole
bunch of character witnesses - Lady Bird
Johnson, very prominent people - waiting in
the jury room to testify. The first witness was
Billy Graham," Rezneck recalled.
Williams asked Graham to state his name, to
which the latter answered, "Dr. Billy Graham."
Next, Williams asked him to state his profession,
and Graham responded, "I preach the gospel
of Jesus Christ across the face of the Earth."
"At which time, three members of the jury cried
out, 'Amen.' That was the end of the character
testimony. Williams just had great instincts,"
Rezneck said.
I asked Rezneck to what extent these characteristics were innate versus fostered over time.
Rezneck said he doesn't know how much of it
was natural, but he noted that Williams tried a

lot of cases. Rezneck also recalled that Williams
used to say, "The only way you don't lose cases
is if you're not trying them."3
Rezneck tells his students at Georgetown Law
that Williams used to throw up before every
case. It is not intended as a slight but as a
recognition that anxiety is not only natural but
expected. Rezneck likes to say, "If you're not
anxious, you'll know you're dead." Or, as retired
Judge Gerald Bruce Lee of the U.S. District Court
for the Eastern District of Virginia describes it,
it is the "adrenaline of excellence." 4
Rezneck regarded Judge William B. Bryant, the
first African American chief judge of the U.S.
District Court for the District of Columbia, as
one of the two best trial lawyers in the past 50
or 60 years in Washington, D.C. "He was very
low-key actually. He didn't overdo it," Rezneck
said. "If anything, it was kind of understated, but
he exuded this absolute verity, honesty, and
reliability. Juries bought into that."

Rezneck tells his students at
Georgetown Law that Williams
used to throw up before every
case. It is not intended as
a slight but as a recognition
that anxiety is not only natural
but expected.
Rezneck shared with me a story about Bryant
that has less to do with trials but is nevertheless
worth retelling. "When [Bryant] moved to private
practice, he was representing a guy accused of
killing his wife back in the '50s when there was
a mandatory death sentence. Bryant persuaded
the U.S. Attorney's Office to have his client plead
to second-degree murder, which would spare
his life," Rezneck recalled. "On the day appointed
for the plea, the defendant said to him that
he wasn't pleading. Bryant asked him why. The
defendant said, 'I want justice.' Bryant said, 'You
don't want justice. You want mercy.'"
Rezneck often tells this story to his students to
make a point about judgment. It is the duty of
a lawyer "to give your point of view, to disagree



Washington Lawyer - June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - June 2020

YOUR VOICE
FROM OUR PRESIDENT
PRACTICE MANAGEMENT
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
BAR BUSINESS: BUDGET REPORT
MEET GEOFFREY M. KLINEBERG: 49TH PRESIDENT OF THE D.C. BAR
MOVING THE NEEDLE ON LAW FIRM DIVERSITY
THE 2020 JOHN PAYTON LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
JAMES SANDMAN GOES BACK TO SCHOOL
LAW & SERVICE: OAG CONNECTS TO THE COMMUNITY
ON FURTHER REVIEW
THE LEARNING CURVE
MEMBER SPOTLIGHT
WORTH READING
ATTORNEY BRIEFS
DISCIPLINARY SUMMARIES
THE PRO BONO EFFECT
SPECIAL SECTION: UNFINISHED FIGHT
LAST WORD
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 1
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 2
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 3
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 4
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - YOUR VOICE
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - FROM OUR PRESIDENT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 7
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - PRACTICE MANAGEMENT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 9
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - BAR BUSINESS: BUDGET REPORT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - MEET GEOFFREY M. KLINEBERG: 49TH PRESIDENT OF THE D.C. BAR
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 13
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 14
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 15
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 16
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 17
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - MOVING THE NEEDLE ON LAW FIRM DIVERSITY
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 19
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 20
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 21
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 22
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 23
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - THE 2020 JOHN PAYTON LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 25
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 26
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 27
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - JAMES SANDMAN GOES BACK TO SCHOOL
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 29
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 30
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 31
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - LAW & SERVICE: OAG CONNECTS TO THE COMMUNITY
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 33
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - ON FURTHER REVIEW
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 35
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - THE LEARNING CURVE
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 37
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - MEMBER SPOTLIGHT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 39
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 40
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 41
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - WORTH READING
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - ATTORNEY BRIEFS
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - DISCIPLINARY SUMMARIES
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 45
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - THE PRO BONO EFFECT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 47
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 48
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 49
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - SPECIAL SECTION: UNFINISHED FIGHT
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - 51
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - LAST WORD
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - June 2020 - Cover4
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