A great trial lawyer I knew who was a mentor to me unfortunately died in his mid-70s during the COVID-19 pandemic. We would have breakfast or lunch four or five times a year, and he was always a font of information and teaching (often giving me directives about how to build my practice or pick juries or the like). I could go on and on about how he impressed me. One thing that stuck out is how — notwithstanding that he made enough money and it wasn’t about that; and had tried plenty of cases and had nothing to prove — he would share with interest a decision he read that laid out some legal principle he never heard of, or learned from an expert in a recent case how a given product work. He had practiced law for half a century before he died but he was always learning.
This is not simply a nice thing. This is necessary. We have to keep learning if we are to win for our clients, and we need to make that a conscious choice.
At our firm, a frequent question we get when a new matter comes in is whether we have handled a case like the prospective client’s before. And from their perspective that can mean different things: Do you do crypto? Have you ever handled a sex abuse case? Do you do real estate cases? Can you handle a case in California? (In our case, we, thankfully, can generally say yes.)
But I don’t care if we have handled a case, from the client’s perspective, like theirs. This case — this new case — is going to be different, at least when you have a practice that is as diverse as ours. So we have to keep learning. And there are so many ways: CLEs (though, yes, most are boring), articles published by law firms, some legal journals. But most of all it comes from doing and paying attention: actually trying to learn something beyond the use for the given case, even if that’s the primary reason you’re learning the new thing.
That trial lawyer I mentioned was an exemplar in many ways, and any of us would be blessed to have a career like his if that was the right fit for us. And one thing we can learn from him is that we only win for our clients if we are always learning.
John Balestriere is an entrepreneurial trial lawyer who founded his firm after working as a prosecutor and litigator at a small firm. He is a partner at trial and investigations law firm Balestriere Fariello in New York, where he and his colleagues represent domestic and international clients in litigation, arbitration, appeals, and investigations. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.