Choosing a Military Trial Lawyer

I have previously written about factors to consider in selecting a military trial lawyer If you search the internet for “why I should hire a civilian lawyer” or “should I hire a civilian lawyer” you will find dozens of entries.  Missing from all this, including my own list, are the intangible qualities that you should be looking for in a military trial lawyer.

First of all, let me that that the following applies exclusively to servicemembers who are facing a court martial or other action where the civilian military trial lawyer will be appearing and arguing in front of a judge or a panel (jury) on your behalf.  If this is the case, then beyond the usual factors such as experience, results, education, etc., you need to consider whether this person will make a good impression on the fact-finder(s) who will ultimately hold your fate in his/her hands.  What do I mean by this?  I mean that that certain people present well and certain people don’t present as well.  And this can make all the difference between being believed and not being believed.

Below are some of the things I think it makes sense to consider in selecting which military trial lawyer will represent you:

  1. Appearance: Does the military trial lawyer look professional?  Do they look like someone who a military judge or jury would be receptive to?  It is important to remember that either the military judge or the jury will be active duty military – so consider the prospective civilian military lawyer from their perspective.
  2. Openness/Friendliness:  Does the military trial lawyer appear to have an open, engaging and friendly demeanor? Many, if not most, civilian lawyers specializing in military law claim to be aggressive.  If a military trial lawyer comes across as too aggressive, particularly in sexual assault cases, the military lawyer risks losing the audience.  As the old saying goes, “You attract more bees with honey.”
  3. Manner of Speech:  When you speak to the military trial lawyer, do they sound confident?  Do they speak clearly and articulately?  Are you able to follow everything they say? (If you can’t follow it, you can be sure that a panel won’t).
  4. Is the Lawyer Passionate? (But not overly so):  Being an effective advocate does involve some theatre.  A military trial lawyer will be telling the judge or panel a story about what happened and why you should be believed.  The military lawyer needs to believe in the story they are telling and convey it with conviction and passion.  With that said, too much force or passion will come across as phony and offputting.
  5. Is the Lawyer Cheesy?  Is this a lawyer who looks like they’ve just stepped off an infomercial?  If the lawyer conjures images of “Better Call Saul” it’s probably best to stay away.  These sorts of lawyers have flashy and often silly videos shamelessly promoting themselves.  I think it’s fair to say that this type of lawyer does not play well with a military audience.
  6. Would You Want to Have a Beer With Them?:  This is the ultimate litmus test.  If you would not want to have a beer with this civilian military lawyer, don’t hire them – despite all their experience and credentials.

More often than not, a servicemember who is making a decision on hiring a military trial attorney is doing so under a great deal of pressure.  They may be swayed by fancy websites, an impressive pedigree, and what look to be exclusively positive results.  So they may ignore the voice in their head that says “I don’t know if I actually like this guy/gal” and go ahead and retain someone they are not entirely comfortable with.  Instead of doing this, I would strongly advise a Soldier to listen to their gut instinct.  You know if you like someone and if you don’t.  If you don’t like them, don’t hire them.

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