If you know Chris Finney, then you know he was born to try cases. Considered by many to be one of the brightest and best young trial lawyers in the country, Chris has racked up a number of seven figure verdicts and settlements in just the last twelve months alone. More importantly, Chris is dedicated to justice. The results he obtains for his clients speak for themselves, but his constant willingness to help others in the trial bar speaks volumes.
We are excited to interview Chris for this site and are grateful for his brutally honest and transparent answers.
How did you find out what kind of law you wanted to practice?
I was in law school and taking trial ad. The head of the trial ad department (a former trial attorney himself) stopped in on my final trial during 2L and said he wanted to speak to me after. He told me I was going out for the trial team and that was that. So I tried out and made the team. I was not a “gunner” or member of anything in law school. Not even close. I found I really enjoyed trial team and am forever grateful the head of the program sought me out.
“I also never liked bullies. A plaintiff’s lawyer stands up to those who are always more powerful and who push people around. I like that aspect of the work as well.”
Do you have a legal role model? If so, who (can be more than one)?
Who doesn’t if you are a trial lawyer? To name a few: Rick Friedman, Nick Rowley, Randi McGinn, Gerry Spence, Keith Mitnik, Gary Dordick, Joe Fried, Mo Levine, Carl Bettinger, Don Schlapprizzi, etc.
What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had as a lawyer?
“Any time you get a chance to change someone’s life for the better and you actually do—that is an unmatched feeling and the ultimate reward. Whether it is a settlement, verdict, or even representing them. Then there are the ancillary experiences—meeting so many new people in the course of this work and meeting so many lawyers around the country. Those are incredible experiences. I have even been fortunate enough to connect a client to adopt her 2 daughters through a friend of a friend. That was pretty special.”
I also feel the personal development and introspection that happens to a trial lawyer is unmatched in any field. It can be incredibly rewarding. A trial lawyer, at least the most effective that I have seen, spends hours and hours and hours on their ethos and who they are and what they do. The time spent honing your self pays dividends to your clients and yourself.
I have come across many trial lawyers and the ones who truly seem to stand out are those who have really worked on themselves. And I don’t mean stand out in their profession alone—I mean stand out as a spouse, as a human, as a father. They seem to know who they are and can stay committed to that during all the chaos. That is amazing and my constant goal.
How do you deal with the fear/nerves up to and during trial?
Leading up to trial is worse than in trial. I am constantly second guessing myself. But I always fall back on one or two things—This is what I have decided to do with my life so I better walk the walk and this is what I chose for my life—I knew what I was getting into so suck it up and get to work for this client. It is usually a variation of those. I also tell myself that fairness must be worth fighting for and if we turn and run when faced with adversity, we will never get the fairness people deserve.
During trial, I constantly remind myself that we are right, our client is deserving, and the jury will see it. They want to see it. We just need to trust them and do our jobs. And stay calm. Stay focused. Stay controlled.
And of course—I have the Man in the Arena quote by Teddy Roosevelt for the times things do not go so well.
What are the benefits of working up a case together with another law firm?
I can speak from firsthand experience that there are incredible financial benefits of working with another firm on cases. The best verdicts that I have seen come from working together, not individually. Trial is a team sport as Rick Friedman says. Greediness is not.
But beyond that and much more importantly, the experience of trying a case with someone you trust is truly energizing. You can bounce any idea, any theory, anything off them and they can give you honest feedback and you can do the same. As a good friend once told me: Nothing is as efficient as trust. That is the same in trial. If you trust that co-counsel, you can really do some good for your client in the courtroom and enjoy the experience.
How can someone build trust with a jury?
You have to be able to trust yourself first. To do that, you really have to get down in the dark with who you are as a person and what you are doing. Self-examination is a key Jesuit ideal that I learned in high school. Trial law has continued that ideal. And you must do it daily. You should try to develop your true heart each day. It is tiring and not everyone wants to do it. It is a never-ending battle that really sucks when you are losing. But when you are trusting yourself and you are confident, anything is possible. If you don’t trust yourself, how can you expect anyone else to and how can you expect to trust anyone? It should start with you. And I honestly feel like I am losing that battle these days, so this is a good reminder for me.
“Also, to trust yourself, you have to put the legwork in for your craft.”
You have to invest in your skillset. If you don’t develop your skills and work on your abilities, all the inner work is not as valuable or powerful. You have to be a sound technician in addition to mentally fit.
Many thanks to Chris for his time in agreeing to this interview. We are all excited to watch him continue doing great things for his clients and for the trial lawyer community. If this interview helped in any way, please consider supporting (even nominally) Chris’ charity of choice: MICA Project, an organization based in St. Louis dedicated to defending the rights of low-income immigrants.