Courtroom Lessons From Donald Trump?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on March 08, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

He talks about his manhood. He loves to go ad hominem. He's wildly inconsistent. When it comes to Donald Trump's debate performance, as the Donald might say, it's pathetic.

If there's a lesson to be taken from Donald Trump's debate style, it's that when it comes to lawyering, don't do what Donald does.

Don't Follow Trump

"But isn't Trump winning?" you ask. It's true. To the dismay many, and the jubilation of some, Donald Trump remains solidly ahead in the Republican primaries and could likely win the nomination. We may even have a President Donald someday.

So why shouldn't lawyers be imitating his success? Because a court of law isn't the same as a primary election or televised political debate. As attorneys, we have what the GOP lacks: someone able to keep things in check. (We're thinking judges here, but even non-litigators have basic standards of professional responsibility and civility that would make many Trumpian tactics inappropriate.)

Consider, for example, the absurdity of telling a hostile witness, "You are the single biggest liar. You probably are worse than the defendant. This guy lied. He's a nasty guy." (Adapted from Trump's comments to Ted Cruz at the GOP's Valentine's Day debate.)

The Trump Trio to Avoid

So, what shouldn't you do that Trump does? The first is name calling. While Trump has successfully taken down his opponents with ad hominem attacks (we're sorry, Jeb, but you really were low energy), attorneys who need to go after someone's character in the courtroom should stick to the tried ways: good, old-fashioned character evidence.

Stay away from unsupported statements, as well. As an attorney, facts are your currency. They're not Trump's. Make sure what you put forward in court or in your practice can be substantiated.

Finally, don't cross the line with the moderators/judges. In one of his first big debate performances, Donald Trump responded to Megyn Kelly's question about his comments on women (he'd called some women pigs, dogs, and disgusting animals). Later, Trump claimed that Kelly had been out to get him. "There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever," he said on ABC's "This Week."

We can't guarantee what would happen to an attorney who spoke of a judge similarly in court, but we can imagine there'd be blood everywhere by the end, too. Or at least fines.

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