What makes a top trial lawyer? The National Law Journal has spoken to 10 of the best, each one of whom have had at least one big win over the past 15 months. So what makes them win?

The articles are less profiles of the lawyers than stories of how they won their big cases. The cases themselves varied dramatically. A murder trial in Texas lasted two weeks, while a patent infringement suit in New York ran for seven months.

In spite of this diversity, a few common threads can be teased from these texts. The attorneys are all masters at simplifying complex information into a form that is easily digested. Not only is this a more effective way of communicating, but it can also shorten trials: a surefire formula for winning jurors’ hearts and minds.

When one of our winners told jurors who had just been forced to endure five weeks of listening to the government’s case that his defense would take only two days, they literally smiled and broke into applause.

These lawyers are also adept at raising doubts about their opponents even as they establish their own credibility. They know when to personalize a case, and how much, and they know when to step aside and let the evidence speak for itself.

Two of our litigators won civil bench trials and seven won jury trials—five civil, two criminal. The 10th—Eric MacLeish—didn’t even try a case. He was recognized for securing court orders and deposing a defendant.

Sometimes very big cases can turn on very small details, and these usually make for dramatic stories. Errol Taylor had one such case. Taylor won a bench trial involving patent infringement claims on an extremely profitable drug. The case turned, in part, on flight times listed on an airline ticket.

Barry Ostrager also had a case with a lot at stake. He won a $370 million bench trial for J.P. Morgan Chase over a loan guarantee. One small detail that benefited his case was a CEO’s nine-day ski trip to Colorado.

Some lawyers found that they were able to score points by attacking their adversaries.

Houston prosecutor Kelly Siegler faced the difficult task of trying a murder case that had been tried twice before. On top of that, the defendant had never been in trouble with the law and his father was a well-respected local defense lawyer.

In the other criminal case, Tom Green defended Tyson Foods against charges that it had violated immigration laws in recruiting employees. Three Tyson executives had pleaded guilty before trial, and an eye-popping nine-figure forfeiture was at stake.

Jerry McDevitt defended World Wrestling Federation Entertainment against claims by a wrestler that she was sexually harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment. McDevitt’s challenge was to demolish the plaintiff’s credibility without diminishing the importance of the laws that protect women with legitimate complaints.

Finally, Bruce Fagel, a plaintiff’s medical malpractice lawyer, revealed that the secret of his success has less to do with his medical degree than the collaboration of his wife. Her job includes sitting next to him during his trials and telling him when he’s talking over the jurors’ heads.

List your legal jobs on the LawFuel Network
Scroll to Top