If you’ve attended a CLE for trial lawyers in the past several years you’ve likely heard this phrase: “And our next presenter is Tad Thomas.” Tad has become one of most sought-after CLE speakers in the country, presenting on topics ranging from technology in the courtroom and litigation skills to modern law practice management. Tad goes where’s he asked — he’s a man who is committed to sharing the knowledge he’s gained from running a successful law practice and from obtaining incredible results for his clients. Elected by his peers to serve as a national officer of the American Association of Justice, Tad’s commitment to the trial bar is unmatched.
Even more, his willing commitment to help lawyers of every stripe through challenges, personal and professional, is a testament to his character. Below, Tad shares some nuggets of wisdom for new lawyers and established lawyers alike.
Why did you decide to become a trial lawyer?
When I was a sophomore in college, I read an article in the Louisville newspaper about a larger than life trial lawyer by the name of Frank Haddad. The article talked about Frank’s upbringing, which was similar to my own. He was a descendant of Lebanese immigrants and he grew up on the old Haymarket in downtown Louisville where my grandfather had a butcher shop. That butcher shop turned into a grocery and food service business that supported three generations of my family.
Frank was known as the “lawyers’ lawyer.” He was mostly a criminal defense lawyer and represented people from all walks of life. He was the most sought-after lawyer in Kentucky for many years. I was so inspired by reading the article that I ended up getting a job working for Frank during college. I never left the law after that and the article I read still hangs in my office today.
What factors do you consider when you decide to go “all in” on a case? Is it a gut feeling or something more?
I’d say there is a “gut feeling” that has been developed over twenty years of representing many different types of clients on many different types of cases.
“Like all lawyers, I’ve put my heart and soul into cases that I thought were good cases and turned out the wrong way for one reason or another. I’ve learned more lessons from the cases I’ve lost than the cases I’ve won.”
Now, the cases that I put forth the most effort on are the ones for the clients I like and that I know the jury will like. It is so much more satisfying to stand up in an opening statement or a closing argument and believe that you’re giving 110% for a family who deserves justice. It makes you want to work harder, longer and put forth every ounce of effort you can muster if a positive result at trial means doing something that will make a difference in someone’s life.
What is your favorite part of a trial? Why?
My favorite part of trial, oddly enough, is voir dire. I believe that cases can be won or lost in voir dire since it is your first opportunity to engage with a jury. It is your first opportunity to build your credibility, to set a level playing field and to show command of the courtroom. Once you sit down in voir dire the jury needs to know that you are confident in your case, you are confident in the courtroom, and that when you speak, they should be paying attention. It will set the tone for the rest of the trial.
What resources do you use in preparing for that part of trial?
I have developed a pretty good outline over the years that has been adapted from ones I’ve seen other trial lawyers use and editing for what works for me. There are a couple of sections that can be tailored for each particular case. I’m also a big fan of Evernote which is where I store all of the CLE materials I’ve gathered over the years along with articles from legal periodicals and any other material I’ve gathered on a subject. I typically will review some of those materials and make tweaks to my outline the week before trial.
Is there a moment in any trial that sticks out to you — good or bad — and can you share that?
One of my favorite memories is actually from the only criminal trial I ever handled. It was an attempted murder case with only one eyewitness. The cross examination went so well that even the judge started laughing at the witness before she caught herself. It ended up being a hung jury, but right before the retrial the judge looked at me and said sternly, “Mr. Thomas, if you look at me during Mr. X’s examination, I’m going to hold you in contempt. Because if you look at me, I’m going to laugh and if I laugh it is your fault. So, I’m going to hold you in contempt.”
How long do you enjoy a successful win before getting back to work?
Depends on how long it takes me to get back to a computer after I leave the courtroom. Too much work to do to take too much time off. I will usually try and have a nice dinner with the family to celebrate though.
What advice do you have for new trial lawyers?
Get involved in organizations like AAJ and your state trial lawyer association. These organizations provide invaluable resources that will allow you to develop your skills, learn about new types of cases, and figure out what you need to grow your practice and be successful. Not only that, but these organizations are the only ones standing up for the 7th Amendment and standing in the way of big corporations shutting the doors to the courtroom for our clients.
“If it wasn’t for these organizations, the world would be a much more dangerous place to live. They need our support and they will also support you as well.”
What charity/organization are you passionate about?
For many years I was involved in the Louisville Free Public Library. I have always felt that the difference between success and failure in life is a combination of vision and opportunity. If you lack either one you will limit what you can accomplish. The library provides both by providing education and opening the eyes of its users to all of the possibilities that world has to offer. Libraries are some of the community’s most valuable and under supported resources.
We are hopeful you gained some valuable insights from Tad’s interview. We thank Tad for taking the time out to share this information with our readers and look forward to hearing more from Tad in the future. In the meantime, please check out Tad’s organization of choice: The Louisville Free Public Library Foundation, an organization dedicated to benefiting, promoting, and enhancing the resources of the Louisville Free Public Library.