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Cocky in Court or How Confidence Made Me a Better Lawyer

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Summary: This article examines one of the most important attributes an attorney can have, which is confidence.
 
Could the Myer-Briggs personality test predict my future as a lawyer?
 
  • One of the most important weapons a lawyer can have in his/her arsenal is confidence.
  • In any legal setting, confidence can immediately set an opponent on edge, making them understand that in the very least, a legal battle is due to begin.
  • At the very most, show enough confidence and you may have already won your case.
 
Confidence may well be the most underrated and thus undersold character trait any of us have. Consequently, when a person suffers a lack of confidence, they may display to others an acute character flaw that turns everyone off, making the end game for that person much more difficult to compete in or even ascertain as a fair fight.


 
Well, to be honest, it is a fair fight. It’s a fair fight because this is how the world of law and the legal practice works. The sole specialty of an attorney is not unlike that of a professional athlete who searches out weaknesses in their opponent, or an actor who strives to perfectly nail a role.
 
To be certain, with law, a lack of confidence can arrive in a number of ways. However, what’s more important is that attorneys who may lack confidence in a practice area or feel uncertain about a particular subject matter need to recognize that he or she is at a deficit, and may very well be in danger of losing their case.
 
And, of course, losing one’s case, especially in the competitive nature of law, can be detrimental to a person’s career, particularly if that loss is due to a lack of confidence.
 
All-in-all, for the sake of your law practice, you cannot let a lack of confidence undermine you.
 
It All Begins in School
 
By the time you’re in law school, you should have developed some, if not many of the skills you will need to be a competitive lawyer. You should know how to:
 
  • Use compelling and persuasive language when writing legal documents.
  • Use that same language when verbally arguing a case.
  • Know that you must be prepared – always.
  • Understand the facts of any cases that you are arguing.
 
Sure, this sounds easy. But some law school grads and/or younger first and second-year associates fail to prepare themselves using the four key components above. For example, their verbal skills may be better developed than their writing skills, which can reflect on the lawyer, and cause him/her damage to their case. They may not have their facts in line, or they simply aren’t prepared, which can lead to a definite lack of confidence, and consequentially (again) a lost case.
 
Needless to say, teaching a law student confidence is not high on many law schools’ curriculum.  The fortunate aspect is that if a student displays a confidence level that isn’t quite on the level of being convincing, the law firm itself and other lawyers can either directly or indirectly teach that lawyer the confidence they’ll need to be successful in a legal setting.
 
And honestly, what senior associates and partners can teach a young attorney in confidence has nothing to do with facts and being prepared. It has to do with character.
 
Call it, if you will, on-the-job temperament training.
 
Cocky in Court
 
If attitude is for a-holes, then bless today’s attorney as they know attitude can get a lawyer very far in their day-to-day battles, not to mention their careers.
 
Attitude is king in the legal profession. Why this is true is because attitude is often associated with confidence.
 
How an attorney…
 
  • Walks
  • Talks
  • Carries themselves
  • Regards others
  • Regards the issue at hand (i.e. a slam dunk, a complicated mess, easily solved, etc.)
  • Dresses
  • Dresses someone down during litigation or court examination
 
… Is the cockiness that goes hand-in-hand with confidence.
 
Of course, this kind of attitude is nothing that one learns in school or is shown in a Big Law firm in the same way a lawyer is shown where the copier is or the lunchroom. Behind this door, you will not find confidence.
 
Confidence is learned through experience. It is embedded in a person’s conscious by way of repetition. And as a young lawyer, the more opportunities you have to show senior associates and partners that you have the self-assurance that it takes to be effective, the more chances they will give you to prove as much.
 
For the fact is, and these senior associates and partners know so, meekness, contrition, shyness, agreeability does not win cases. Cases are won by directness, strongly made points, bulletproof arguments presented with assurance, and in the end, an attitude that in and of itself states, “Ladies and gentlemen, how can I lose?”
 
Communication Is Key
 
In a recent article published on Vault, called 3 Ways Law Students Can Become More Confident Communicators, what writer Stanley Polit refers to as “soft skills” are the communicative abilities of a young attorney to influence a presentation. Of course, in a legal setting, presentation will always rely, and at that heavily, on communication. In other words, how a point is communicated is germane to how it will be considered by a jury or in the very least, an opponent.
 
Polit is spot on when he suggests that this soft skill is “not easily found in classrooms or case books.” Nonetheless, they are essential for the success of aspiring lawyers.
 
The writer also notes that the most important soft skill for a lawyer is public speaking. Of course, speaking to the public allows for a prime opportunity in which a lawyer can display his or her confidence. It is the perfect chance for them to be loud, direct, captivating, and forceful with their facts.
 
Polit explains that a superior set of presentation skills allows lawyers to stand out, but that it is also imperative that these skills begin their development while a future lawyer is still in school.
 
The following are three suggestions Polit’s article gives to help build confidence within current law students:
 
1) Balance Preparation and Practice
 
When preparing a speech or presentation, it's important to avoid the classic "more is better" exam trap. Imagine you're studying for a big exam. In preparation, you spend enormous amounts of time putting together page after page of materials to bring with you on the big day, but then find yourself struggling to use that information on the test. When you get your grade back, you wonder why there doesn't seem to be a clear connection between your level of preparation and the actual outcome.
 
You may have experienced this disconnect because your preparation strategy didn't focus on building connections between ideas. Presentations often come with the same set of traps. When preparing for a presentation, make sure you spend enough time actually practicing the speech itself. This may seem obvious but too often law students spend so much time doing front-end research that they run out of time to practice putting these ideas together aloud. Your goal from the start should be to achieve an equal balance between research and practice. Achieving this balance will help you build confidence while identifying gaps in your understanding.
 
2) Create a Cohesive Outline
 
Too much preparation can be the enemy of an effective presentation, but that doesn't mean preparation isn't important. The key is preparing in the right way. The way you prepare for classes is a perfect example. You probably learned very quickly that preparing for class requires more than just reading a case book. Each case contains far too many complicated details to understand without breaking them down.
 
Try building a presentation like you would a case outline. Start by identifying the key concept you want to teach or the argument you want to make. Then make decisions about how to break down the most complex ideas. By simplifying these ideas in your presentation outline, you will reinforce them in your own mind and make them easier to explain in the moment.
 
3) Don't Be Afraid to Take a Pause
 
The idea of having to speak "off the cuff" can be terrifying. That's why few things create more anxiety for law students than the classroom "cold call." You've likely experienced the sinking feeling of being asked to answer a question in front of your peers. This can be especially daunting if you're uncertain of an answer or unsure about what is being asked.
 
Situations like these don't just happen in classrooms. They happen in offices and conference rooms every day. When asked to answer a question in front of others it's important to recognize that your reaction is as important as any response you can give. Don't be afraid to take a second to collect your thoughts before answering. Use that time to understand the essence of the question and why it is being asked. Even in a few short seconds, you can create a roadmap for your answer. By crafting an organized response, you will not only give a more focused answer but also exhibit a calm and controlled demeanor.
 
Becoming a more confident communicator is a process. Luckily, half the battle is recognizing how the law school experience has given you the tools needed to begin that journey. By recognizing the need for these skills early on in your law school career, you'll be able to jump start your path towards success.

 
The Young Lawyers division of the American Bar Association breaks Polit’s ideas down to even deeper levels.
 
In an article published on the TYL website, The 5 Secrets of Speaking with Confidence, we are treated to a legal atmosphere that is almost stage-like in its description. An atmospheric feeling that suggests the lawyer is more like an actor (which he or she really is), and that a cross-examination or an opening and/or closing argument is more akin to a soliloquy than a legal movement.
 
Thus, the 5 secrets are:
 
Secret 1: Stance
 
Stand firm and stand tall. Keep your feet planted on the ground about hip distance apart, with your weight equally distributed on the hips. Imagine that your feet have dried in concrete to avoid rocking, swaying, tapping, or pacing. Purposeless movement distracts listeners from your message and is a sign of nervousness.
 
With your feet grounded, stand tall. Lift your chest, expanding the area from your hips to your shoulders. But keep your shoulders relaxed and rolled back. Hold your head high, like there’s a string attached from the top of your head to the ceiling. Excellent posture conveys confidence before a single word is spoken.
 
Secret 2: Sound

Fill the room with sound. With the foundation of excellent posture, project your voice by speaking from the diaphragm and not the throat. This also ensures that your voice is grounded, or on the low end of its natural range. A well-grounded voice allows you to project without straining or becoming hoarse.
 
Speak louder than you think you should. It’s nearly impossible to be too loud. After all, how many times have you left a presentation thinking, “That speaker was just too loud”?
 
Secret 3: Smile

Show those pearly whites. Smiling not only makes your voice more pleasant to listen to, it also conveys confidence. Even if you’re terrified of public speaking, no one will know if you have a smile on your face. Rest assured, smiling throughout a presentation won’t make you look cheesy. You will appear friendly, approachable, and composed. Whenever it’s appropriate for your topic (and it usually is), throw on a smile.

Secret 4: Silence

Use . . . long . . . pauses. In our culture, we loathe silence. This causes us to turn sentences into run-ons and fill time with junk words, such as “um,” “ah,” “you know,” “kind of,” “like,” “so,” and “well.” These habits make speakers look unpolished, unprepared, and unprofessional. To overcome them, start correcting yourself in casual conversations and enlist the help of friends, family members, and colleagues to point out when you slip up.
 
Additionally, if you lose your train of thought, don’t apologize or show any outward signs of frustration. These reactions only draw attention to the mistake. Minimize inevitable stumbles by silently finding your place in your notes or taking a sip of water to regain composure. Any pause before an audience feels like an eternity to the speaker. It doesn’t to the audience.

Secret 5: Sight

Make lasting eye contact. Hold your gaze on an audience member for five to seven seconds—much longer than you think you should. Then move on and hold your gaze on someone else in a different part of the room. Lingering eye contact builds rapport by giving audience members the feeling that they are engaged in an intimate one-on-one conversation.
 
Avoid scanning the audience without stopping to look directly at anyone. Don’t make selective eye contact with the two or three people in the room who are paying close attention. Ignore the suggestion of looking at the back of the room rather than your audience to reduce nervousness; it might make it the easiest speech you ever delivered, but it also will make it the least engaging. Audiences want you to speak to them, not at them.
 
Remember the five S’s of confident delivery: stance, sound, smile, silence, and sight. Master these secrets and you’ll have the confidence to speak up and stand out in any situation.

Conclusion
 
For anyone to say being a lawyer does not in any way have similarities to being an actor simply knows nothing about the legal profession and how lawyers are supposed to represent themselves and the cases they defend.
 
Those who do know the legal profession understands the charm lawyers need to have to win the jury. They understand the conviction, the sense of importance – both case wise and of themselves – to assure the “deciders” of any case that their point of view is correct while the opposition is simply dead wrong.
 
To do that, lawyers need bravado, guts, balls – all of it wrapped up in a good-looking suit and an air of “I’m right and everyone else is wrong.”
 
Granted, an attitude like this may not get you a date – though conversely, no one said it would prevent you from getting a date.
 
Sure, you may be regarded ill-favorably in the deli aisle of your local grocery store if you’re the slightest bit cocky or over-confident when you speak when explaining the thickness of how you want your meat sliced.

But, of course, that’s when you have to learn another “soft skill” which is to shut down the lawyer in you when you’re not at the firm or in the courtroom. Just be an average person waiting for your half-pound of mesquite turkey and you’ll be fine with the rest of the outside world.
 
Inside the firm or the courtroom is where your real confidence should arise. The confidence you self-learned in law school, and which you will further hone in your first and second year of associate work.
 
That confidence, which will undoubtedly help you win many cases from here and into the future.
 
For more information, look into these articles:
 


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