Editor's Comment: Lessons Learned - By Sarah Roland

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Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

It’s an understatement to say that a lot has happened in the last month. There’s been a lot to absorb no matter your walk in life. A tremendous Fall Classic and a jaw-dropping presidential election. History has been made, but to call either event groundbreaking doesn’t come close to estimating their impacts or importance in the world of sports and around the world. Whatever the allegiance—whether Cub or Indian, Trump or Clinton—people have been instantly divided. Either a new dawn is breaking or the sun is setting. But in absorbing these monumental events there are some lessons we, as criminal defense lawyers, can (re)learn and apply to our trial practice:

1. America Loves an Underdog

There are underdogs in every aspect of life. For 108 long years, the Cubs have been the preeminent underdog. When they did manage to make it to the series, they always came up short. And it is no secret that Trump was the underdog from the primary. He seemed to revel in the fact that he was the unlikeliest. And yet, Americans rooted the Cubs and Trump to victory.

We need to capitalize on this in our trials. According to the Drama Triangle, in social interaction there is always a rescuer, persecutor, and victim. The jury is always the rescuer. The rescuer always rescues the victim. Therefore, the task for us, as criminal defense lawyers, is to flip the normal roles—from defendant/persecutor to defendant/victim. This isn’t easy to do, but when accomplished will always result in a win (however that term be defined for a particular case).

2. Passion Matters

Cubs fans are like no other. They are virtually in a class of their own—unparalleled in their allegiance and forever hopeful about the next season. To say they are passionate may be an understatement.

The same can be said for Trump supporters. Despite acknowledged campaign stumbles, numerous gaffes, and openly offensive remarks, his supporters remained loyal to the end.

The lesson here is that we must be passionate about what we do. Every case. Every time. Lives and freedom depend on it. A jury can spot a fake a mile away. Logic without any emotion will never carry the day in a courtroom. Allow yourself to feel and allow those feelings to show.

3. Victory Loves Preparation

Make no mistake about it, neither the Cubs’ nor Trump’s victory would have been possible without preparation. Joe Maddon came to the Cubs organization in the fall of 2014 and began laying the groundwork and recruiting the talent for a World Series win. Trump was busy laying the foundation for his presidential bid at the turn of the century, and the RNC provided the permanent ground game for his win in 2012 after Romney’s loss. Preparation, mixed with a little luck, is key.

The same is true for trial work. Preparation starts long before we ever set foot into the courtroom. It starts with the first meeting. Really listening, researching, looking at different angles, knowing the law and the case better than anyone else involved. Diligent preparation allows us to capitalize on opportunities that present themselves during trial. And a little luck never hurt anyone either.

4. If You Can’t Win, Don’t Lose

My Dad used to say this to me. I didn’t understand it at first. I remember that he said it when I started playing soccer and little league softball. He would tell me to think about it. The answer—at least as applied to my sports career at that time—was to tie. And along with that lesson, we were always taught to be good sports—to always fight like hell but to win, and lose, graciously. That can be hard to do.

Clinton didn’t win the White House but she won the popular vote. She conceded graciously, acknowledged the pain, and reminded her supporters to keep fighting and never give up.

The Indians are the 2016 ALCS champs. Going seven games and into the extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series is about as close as a World Series can possibly get. By any standard, the Indians had a winning season.

Mistrials and lesser included offenses are the obvious parallels in criminal practice. A win is not necessarily always a “not guilty.”

5. It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over

The New York Times headline said it all: “Chicago Cubs, World Series Champions: Game 7 Provides Excruciating Test.” Indeed, it was. Game 7 went into the 10th inning before the Cubs were able to rally and clinch the win, thus breaking “the curse.” “It was like a heavyweight fight, man. Just blow for blow, everybody playing their heart out,” said second baseman and World Series MVP Ben Zobrist.

No one predicted a Trump victory. Not in the days and weeks leading up to the election and not even on Election Day. It was reported that a senior adviser in the Trump camp said—on election night—that it would take a miracle for Trump to win. But as the returns continued to come in, against all odds, a Trump win became a probability and then a reality.

The lesson for us is to not give up. Not ever. Give it everything down to the very end. A case may look and feel hopeless, but keep fighting. You never know . . .