MOVING THE GOALPOSTS WHY LAWYERS AND FOOTBALL DYNASTIES NEED TO STAY ADAPTABLE
I feel very fortunate when football season rolls around. You see, I’ve had the privilege of calling three great NFL teams my “home” team over the course of my life, which affords me a good deal of flexibility when the season kicks off in earnest. Between the Eagles, Steelers, and Chargers, I’m almost guaranteed to still have a dog in the fight by the time the post-season rolls around. As someone who grew up in Philly but graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, I’m very grateful the Eagles and Steelers are in different conferences. I was especially appreciative of this during my college years, when the Steelers defense was absolutely impenetrable. This was the Chuck Noll era, when the likes of “Mean” Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, and Ernie Holmes perfected the Steel Curtain and carried the team to four Super Bowl victories in six years. Living in that time in that city, how could I not be a Pittsburgh fan? In the early and mid ’70s, defense was king in the NFL. Back in those days, the running game was far more dominant than it is today, and having a stalwart defensive line was often all it took to shut down an offense. But a series of major rule changes in the late ‘70s, which ranged frommaking field goals more difficult to stricter rules about contact with receivers, worked to make passing more viable and effective. In turn, this made the bulky, unresponsive defensive formations used by the Steelers obsolete.
Just as shifting rules and regulations have impacted the game of football over the years, similar changes have occurred in the legal world. While we often like to think of our justice system as being static, the truth is that many rules and procedures used by lawyers, particularly where trials are concerned, shift over the years. As a lawyer, adapting to these changes is critical to making sure clients’ cases don’t go the way of the Steel Curtain.
legal case as pregame training is to a football team. You need to have a game plan before you take the field, and part of that has to include finding jurors that will be receptive to your case. There are plenty of strategies lawyers on both sides of the courtroom use to find these jurors. It just comes down to transparency. The best defense you can have during any trial is a jury that finds you trustworthy. So my strategy boils down to just that: being worthy of trust. When I interview a juror, I want them to understand I’m no different than they are. I want to have a conversation with them, not rattle off prepared “gotcha” questions. Putting in the groundwork to find open-minded jurors, whether in criminal or civil cases, not only strengthens our defense for your case, it also gives us the opportunity to go on the attack. Much like football these days, a lawyer can’t afford to rely solely on defense. Being able to deflect the other side’s arguments while advocating your own points aggressively is what ultimately wins cases. Using this approach while remaining flexible to new strategies is what defines successful teams and effective lawyers.
JUST AS SHIFTING RULES AND REGULATIONS HAVE IMPACTED THE GAME OF FOOTBALL OVER THE YEARS, SIMILAR CHANGES HAVE OCCURRED IN THE LEGAL WORLD.
For example, when I first started practicing law over 30 years ago, the rules and prevalent strategies around the jury selection process were very different from where they are today. It used to be that both sides of the case had near- unlimited access to potential jurors, so lengthy interviews were conducted that dragged out the vetting stage of the trial for weeks. These days, the process is far more streamlined, meaning lawyers and prosecutors can’t afford to be as heavy-handed with their questioning.
Any quality lawyer will tell you that jury selection can make or break a trial. It’s as important to a
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