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Dealing With That ‘Bad Apple’ on Your Trial Team

Ken Lopez
By: Ken Lopez

Practice, Litigation Management, Management

We at A2L constantly have the pleasure of working with trial teams composed of some of the nation’s best trial attorneys. The teams we work with can be composed of dozens of attorneys, but ordinarily there are three to 12 members. And sometimes, as can be true of any group that is assembled for a particular purpose, there is one member of the group who, without good reason, makes everyone’s life harder. The very presence of this person can have a dulling effect on the trial team’s morale and effectiveness.

Any trial team can be seen as an elite unit, like an army platoon, that has a well-defined mission that everyone shares. That common goal of winning the case is usually enough to unite the trial team in a single-minded purpose and to enable everyone to do their best work possible in pursuit of that goal. This type of team unity correlates very well with ultimate success at trial. But when one team member has a difficult personality – for example, proves to be more interested in his or her personal achievements than in the success of the team as a whole – all bets are off. In our article, 10 Criteria that Define Great Trial Teams, we outlined traits necessary for trial team success. A single difficult personality on a trial team can obstruct success in any of the key areas.  

For example, one important way in which this difficult person can negatively affect the trial team is in communication, or the lack thereof. When a member of the team is afraid to make a suggestion to the team for fear of being ridiculed or shot down by a fellow team member, communication and trust are damaged and the team’s effectiveness is diminished. A safe and open environment are crucial to success.

Similarly, the story-telling and theme development efforts of a trial team are diminished when an egotistical team member delivers criticism in an unpleasant and insensitive way. As we have said elsewhere, there are good ways and bad ways to be critical of another person. A good summary is that it’s important to take the “but” out of the room. A team member who is always saying “yes, but” to every attempt to develop a theme is not helping in theme development. That doesn’t mean everyone should be a “yes man” or “yes woman,” but it does mean that better themes and better stories will emerge from more and better discussion.

A “bad apple” on a trial team can also negatively affect the leadership structure and teamwork of a team. When one person on the team is out for his or her glory or self-preservation rather than for the team’s success, everyone tends to keep their heads down rather than stick their necks out.

Finally, I have long asserted that long hours of practice are a crucial factor in victory at trial. The amount of time spent practicing an opening statement or a cross-examination correlate well with success. If a team is plagued with one member who constantly engages in biting criticism, everyone will shy away from doing the practice that is needed.

If you see that negative personality on your trial team who is dragging down its performance in any number of ways, don’t hesitate to confront the person and surface the issue. It may be a difficult thing for a team leader or member to do, but it is far better than letting the difficulties fester.

Other free articles from A2L Consulting focused on litigation management, trial team best practices, and practice include:

opening statements toolkit ebook download a2l

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