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Trial Lawyer = Good; Litigator = Not so Good

In the world of high-stakes litigation, lawyers are chest thumpers. Even as more women fight their way in, it remains a domain characterized by aggressive machismo. Today's publication of The Am Law 200 is a reminder of that, particularly its appropriately titled feature story, The Mighty Quinn.

The story is about how the litigation-only firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges made it into the rarified ranks of the nation's highest grossing firms. According to writer Susan Beck, the answer, in part, is through its boldness, characterized by the sign in its lobby: "Quinn Emanuel - Trial Lawyers." The message, writes Beck: "We are not your usual big-firm litigators who don't know their way around a courtroom."

In their never-ending efforts to distinguish themselves from their competitors, law firms have adopted "trial lawyer" as a not-so-subtle way of suggesting their superiority. Beck's summation of that message is right on point: Litigators fear the courtroom, trial lawyers thrive in it. If litigators are Christians, trial lawyers are gladiators. An article on the DecisionQuest Web site is up front about this:

"A good litigator will know all the facts and issues. He or she will be brilliant at motion practice, discovery and preparing briefs. A good litigator is an inductive thinker, and if you want to know the most minute point of evidence, the good litigator can tell you about it.

"In contrast, a good trial lawyer thinks deductively and understands that telling the jury more does not lead to increased comprehension. Too many times I have had litigators assure me that after the jury has heard two weeks -- or two months -- of testimony, they will fully comprehend how the microchip works or the structure of a nuclear generator or whatever the highly complex subject of the litigation is. The good trial lawyer teaches the jurors for the moment, hoping they will gain some momentary insight the impression of which they will carry to deliberations."

Just last week, Samuel Buell, praising the lawyers in the Enron trial, summed it up in these terms:

"Not many can pull it off, which is why 'trial lawyer' and 'litigator' are not the same thing."

Confusing the matter further is that, if litigators and trial lawyers are not the same thing, "the same person can be both," according to the DecisionQuest article. The difference, suggests a 2004 post from the trial lawyer who writes The Uncivil Litigator, may lie in the fact that "most civil litigators at big firms have no opportunities for trial experience."

So, then, is a trial lawyer the same as a litigator only with courtroom experience? Can a litigator ever win against a trial lawyer? Or is this all just chest thumping by the mighty?

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 1, 2006 at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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