The Importance of Trial Preparation

What are the keys to success in the courtroom?

How All Successful Lawyers Prep for Trial
Benjamin Slater III

Benjamin Slater III

July 20, 2017 01:16 PM

What are the keys to success in the courtroom? From my perspective as a trial lawyer who has represented both plaintiffs and defendants before juries and judges, almost all successful lawyers prepare for and approach their cases the same way:

  1. They understand the case better than their opponents.
  2. They control the courtroom.
  3. They project confidence in themselves and have respect for the court and justice system.
  4. They connect with the judge and jury and persuasively demonstrate knowledge, confidence, and sincerity.

All lawyers who go into a courtroom do so believing they have done their homework—taken the necessary depositions, marshaled the exhibits, made detailed notes of argument, and prepared outlines of questions for witnesses. But the lawyer who is really prepared has done more—this lawyer has thought through the way the trial will unfold, answering such questions as:

  • Who will be the key witnesses? In what order will they testify? What will be the points opposing counsel will strive to make with each witness? What points will I want to make with my opponents’ witnesses? Will I take on the witness during cross-examination, or will I respond by putting on my own witness to rebut evidence that is not helpful?
  • Knowing all of the potential evidence that may be offered and planning a response gives a lawyer the ability to react quickly and adroitly. It also allows the lawyer to put aside those detailed notes and list of questions and focus on what is taking place the moment. This is particularly important on those occasions when an unpredictable event occurs notwithstanding all of the advance preparation and planning.

Another critical aspect of knowing a case (and the opponents’) better than the opponent knows the case, is the edge it gives a lawyer in responding to the judge. In almost every case there will be times, whether in chambers or in open court, when lawyers have the opportunity to answer questions posed by the judge. If you are the better-prepared lawyer, the judge will be more likely to look to you for those answers and accept your view of the case.

Being prepared gives lawyers the necessary confidence to seize the moment and make the courtroom their own.

Lawyers at trial are competing for the trust and confidence of the judge and jury. Demonstrating knowledge of the facts provides the opportunity for the lawyer to direct the flow of the trial, much like the director of a movie decides how and when to stage the scene.

[Want more on courtroom strategy? Subscribe to our Legal Insights Newsletter]

Projecting a positive attitude and always remaining respectful to the judge, the judge’s staff, and the jury are of paramount importance. Jurors are conditioned to respect the judge and the court system, and any sign of disrespect directed at a witness, lawyer, or the court, even if only in tone or facial gesture, will generally backfire on the offending lawyer. There will be times when a lawyer will disagree with the judge or might even question the judge’s fairness, but it is essential to put those thoughts out of mind. If jurors perceive disrespect, they will be unforgiving.

In addition, trial preparation should always include a thorough review of relevant case law, even in matters where you believe you are comfortable with the legal principles involved. Reading cases on point and analyzing the fact pattern along with any emphasis the court has placed on certain facts helps to organize a lawyer’s game plan for trial and increases the likelihood that all of the elements of proof necessary to support a verdict in the client’s favor are in the record.

In summary, the importance of all these aspects of preparation cannot be understated. Successful lawyers know and understand these principles.


Benjamin “Ben” Slater III serves as New Orleans office managing partner at the national law firm Akerman LLP, where he also is a member of the firm’s litigation practice group. His practice focuses on complex commercial and mass tort litigation.

Related Articles

Colorado's Best Lawyers 2022

by Best Lawyers

Our 2022 Colorado's Best Lawyers publication features top-ranked legal talent in Boulder, Denver and Western Colorado.

Colorado's Best Lawyers 2022

Patent (Win) Pending

by Morgan Chu and Rebecca Carson

In every court proceeding, patent litigation included, there will be a winner and a loser. Everyone wants to win, but half lose. Why?

Winning Patent Litigation

Protecting Small Business Owners: Trial Experts Connick Law LLC Notoriously Successful with Fire Litigation

by Justin Smulison

When small business owners become the target of insurance companies in fire-related lawsuits, hiring a firm with a reputation for understanding the science of fire suppression trials can save their livelihoods.

Gold Indoor Sprinkler Heads on Red Background

Will Recent Boeing Settlements Create Tailwinds In Corporate Law?

by Justin Smulison

Prominent litigation against Boeing is setting a precedent of accountability, professionalism and commitment among company boards as well as ushering ESG further into the courtroom to help monitor and prevent safety issues.

Recent Boeing Settlements and Corporate Law

Courtroom Mastery

by Justin Smulison

Victor H. Pribanic recalled the excitement of returning to the courtroom in late 2021 for a medical negligence case that could help set a new course for Pribanic & Pribanic’s trial advocacy.

Victor H. Pribanic Makes Return to Courtroom

Pennsylvania’s Best Lawyers 2022

by Best Lawyers

Our Pennsylvania’s Best Lawyers 2022 digital publication features top-ranked legal talent in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s Best Lawyers 2022

Helpful Hints & Avoidable Mistakes

by Frank L. Branson

I’ve picked up a lot in the courtroom in five decades of practice. Here are some strategies, tips and other pointers to help make your trial experience smoother—and successful.

Strategies for Plaintiff Lawyers in Trial

Newly Launched COVID-19 Litigation Project Offers Open Access To Pandemic-Related Court Judgments From Over 70 Countries

by Sara Collin

A worldwide database of COVID-19 cases is uniting more than 70 countries as judges, lawmakers and lawyers continue to navigate pandemic related litigation and the ways in which it’s evolving amid year three.

COVID-19 Worldwide Litigation Project

Road to Somewhere

by Mark LeHocky

How can attorneys take steps to improve settlement efforts and avoid unpleasant surprises as they map out a dispute resolution? One litigator-turned-general counsel-turned mediator (with some help from a distinguished rock star) points the way forward.

Improved Dispute Resolution Settlement

Look for the Zoom Label

by Anne R. Yuengert and Matthew C. Lonergan

Will the virtual platforms that got such a boost during the pandemic replace how you interact with your employees, unions, and lawyers?

Virtual Platforms Replacing Work Interactions

Discovery in the Time of COVID-19

by H. Barber Boone

The pandemic has affected the vital process of legal discovery in ways both good and bad. Which changes are likely to become widely accepted in the years ahead?

The Impact of COVID-19 on E-Discovery

Busting a Trust

by Joseph Marrs

The rules governing trusts and asset distribution are often much more flexible than many might assume. Here’s a primer.

Rules Governing Trusts and Asset Distribution

The Next Chapter

by Patrick M. Shelby

Among its uncountable other disruptions, the pandemic upended U.S. bankruptcy procedures. Congressional relief, legislative changes, amended legal provisions: What lies ahead for those looking to file?

COVID-19's Impacts on Bankruptcy Procedures

Phoning It In

by Alyson M. St. Pierre, Ashley C. Pack and Crystal S. Wildeman

It’s not easy for employers to weigh requests from employees to work from afar, even in the wake of the pandemic. Considerations include COVID-19, vaccinations, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the nature of the job itself.

Employer Considerations for Teleworking

Compelled to Compete

by Ashish Mahendru

Courts and legislatures—and now the White House—are taking an increasingly dim view of noncompete employment agreements, a development the pandemic has quickened. What can employers do to protect their confidential information?

Protection for Employers Beyond Noncompetes

Meeting Halfway

by Julia B. Meister

To resolve family and business disputes including wills, trusts, estates and more, mediation is often a more effective, gentler and cheaper option than litigation.

Mediation to Resolve Wills, Trusts, Estates

Trending Articles

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees

by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

Could Reign Supreme End with the Queen?

by Sara Collin

Canada is revisiting the notion of abolishing the monarchy after Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, but many Canadians and lawmakers are questioning if Canada could, should and would follow through.

Teacup on saucer over image of Queen's eye

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers proudly announces lawyers recognized in South Africa for 2023.

South African flag

Famous Songs Unprotected by Copyright Could Mean Royalties for Some

by Michael B. Fein

A guide to navigating copyright claims on famous songs.

Can I Sing "Happy Birthday" in Public?

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in Canada Honorees

by Best Lawyers

The Best Lawyers in Canada™ is entering its 17th edition for 2023. We highlight the elite lawyers awarded this year.

Red map of Canada with white lines and dots

Wage and Overtime Laws for Truck Drivers

by Greg Mansell

For truck drivers nationwide, underpayment and overtime violations are just the beginning of a long list of problems. Below we explore the wages you are entitled to but may not be receiving.

Truck Driver Wage and Overtime Laws in the US

The Upcycle Conundrum

by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom

by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?

Choosing a Title Company: What a Seller Should Expect

by Roy D. Oppenheim

When it comes to choosing a title company, how much power exactly does a seller have?

Choosing the Title Company As Seller

Thirteen Years of Excellence

by Best Lawyers

For the 13th consecutive year, “Best Law Firms” has awarded the most elite and talented law firms across the country through a thorough and trusted data review process.

Red, white and blue pipes and writing on black background


2022: Another Banner Year

by John Fields

Block O’Toole & Murphy continues to secure some of New York’s highest results for personal injury matters.

Three men in business suits standing in office

Caffeine Overload and DUI Tests

by Daniel Taylor

While it might come as a surprise, the over-consumption of caffeine could trigger a false positive on a breathalyzer test.

Can Caffeine Cause You to Fail DUI Test?

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Australia.

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Germany™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Germany.

Black, red and yellow stripes