Inside the Mind of a Trial Lawyer: a Special Interview with Larry and Nick Rice of the Rice Divorce Law

By Charles Parrish | March 06, 2020

As part of a special edition of the Rice Divorce Clerk blog, I sat down to interview Larry and Nick to see what goes through the minds of successful trial lawyers.

Becoming a Trial Lawyer

  • What is the most important aspect of being a trial lawyer?

Larry: Nothing absorbs me more. I am an actor, playwright, author, economist, seeker of truth, and stage manager. All of those at the same time, and everything shrinks down to that court room. I don’t think about anything going on at home, in the world, or other troubles. It is only that small expensive stage. Playing a part on the stage and playing it well is a lot of fun. One thing about fun is that it includes doing good things for people who deserve it.

Nick: Having fun. I like the chess game, the set up. I like getting prepared because it frees up the ability to think on your feet. I like the competition of it. Each case is different so there are new problems to solve . . . It’s like dad says. Being a trial lawyer is the closest you get to being a General. [You’re] planning attacks, shoring up defenses, checking supply lines (what client can afford to pay), getting to play a war game, holding meetings in the war room, delegating responsibilities, and checking case law.

  • What does being a trial lawyer mean to you?

Larry: It gives you the opportunity to put your experience, wit, and abilities against the other side; it is the highest and best use of me. Side effect: it fed my family, put my kids through school and set up a 3-generation tradition.

Nick: Being a problem solver. You can solve it through settlement or trial. I like being good at trial and having the other side know I can take it to trial and do well with that too. “Speak softly and carry big stick.”

Preparing for Trial

  • Are there things you do outside of the office to help you prepare for trial?
    • a. The days leading up?

Larry: Most important is PREPARE. In preparation, we learn how to discern critical points that can make or break the case. We only get about 80-90% prepared, but it gives us an incredible edge and advantage over opposing counsel that show up only 20-30% prepared.

Nick: Everything is planned in advance. I plot out my plan and change as necessary. When I am prepared, it makes me calmer, and I have more confidence.

    • b. The night before?

Larry: Exercise is important to clear up your head.

Nick: The night before, I am putting finishing touches on everything. I am out [of the office] by 5:00 at the latest. I go home and relax with my family.

    • c. The morning of?

Larry: I have a lucky suit. It is 40 years old, and the jacket pocket is showing some wear, but otherwise it’s fine. I wear it with an oxford blue shirt, and a regimental tie.

Nick: The only thing I don’t plan ahead of time is my opening argument. I don’t have one until the morning of. I will kick around opening arguments during my morning routine (workout, meditation, sauna, cold plunge, etc.) Then I come in and write down opening points before going over to Court. It keeps me more genuine and authentic in front of the Court. If I write the opening too early, I am more worried about memorizing a speech.

Presence in Court

  • How would you describe your style or presence in court?

Larry: I think of myself as more of a storyteller. Nick is more of a fact teller.

Nick: *smiles and nods in agreement

  • How do you stay composed in trial when things aren’t going well?

Larry: Don’t let anyone see you sweat. And the best way to keep someone from seeing you sweat is not to sweat. It’s what actors do. Even if something big blows up, he tends to stay calm. A little adrenaline is fine, but if you get afraid, adrenaline kicks in, your frontal lobe shuts down, and you can’t figure out what to do. Your brain starts getting down to fight or flight. You can run, but you’ll die tired. . . Be calm. Be aware. Most lawyers can’t. If a lawyer panics in the court room, God help them. There is no rescuing them. You smell blood in the water, but you must be subtle with how you attack. Opposing Counsel doesn’t recover well after being hit a few times. If morale breaks, the whole thing breaks apart.

Nick: I’m not paid to panic. I’m paid to be rational, and you do what you’re paid to do. Next line is remaining calm in court. Don’t let it start. I tell myself to stop it and try breathing techniques. I almost never have a plan of simply going through the front door. I’m already thinking about how to get in through the back door, windows with no bars, patio door, and other different ways in. If things are going badly, instead of concentrating on that, concentrate on devices to get in.

  • Are there any techniques you have?

Larry: I listen while in the courtroom. I hear if things are changing. I have a subjective reality with the case. The Judge has a more subjective reality, and I’m trying to get them to see my view. Communicating large amounts of data in a short amount of time is a constant challenge. I try to convince the Judge with data before boring them, but I’m not trying to cram data down their throats. I’m trying to impress knowledge upon them.

Nick: I picked this up from Larry and another trial lawyer. I tell myself that everybody in here is my friend and that everyone wants to hear what I have to say. It makes me calmer and alleviates any nerves about public speaking. It’s less canned and makes my performance more genuine.

Advice for law students who are graduating and becoming trial lawyers.

  • What advice do you have for a young attorney or law student who is just beginning his or her career?

Larry: Go to dental school. *Larry and Nick laugh*
It’s going to be hard. You are doing everything for the first time. Then, the golden moment will happen when you get to do something for the second time, and it will be exciting as opposed to the “I have no idea” feeling which you will have over and over. Having fun is important. There are lawyers that spend their lives doing things that bring them anguish. If it’s that miserable for you, don’t do it. It’s a wonderful thing when you master it, but if it isn’t fun, either don’t do it or change the way you do it. . . Take the work seriously but not yourself. It is a great game.

Nick: Learn from everyone you get the chance to work with, but develop your own style that will build credibility and find a way to make it simple. It’s like I tell my associates; “Keep it simple”. Do not say with eight words what can be said with five. The more direct line from A to B the more you are perceived to be correct. . . A lot of lawyers think the more tricks they can pull over on other people makes them a better lawyer, so they misconstrue and try to bait you into something different. If you reach a point where you’re doing tricks on other lawyers, you have given the other lawyers an excuse to do it to you. Don’t waste time looking over your shoulder for who is coming back to you.

LR & NR: Just tell the truth.

As a law clerk who has worked for Larry and Nick Rice for close to a year and half, I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge. The skills I have learned from the Rice Lawhave allowed me to succeed in the practical aspects of law school. One such example is through clinic. The law school’s clinic allows students to practice real cases, with real clients, under the supervision of a professor. This past January, one of my clinic cases went to a hearing. On the day of the hearing, our professor decided that she would bring the new clinic students to watch myself and another student in Court. Despite hours of preparation, knowing that I was now being watched by not only my clients and professor, but also ten other students sent my nerves racing as I sat outside the Courtroom waiting to go inside. Then, I thought to myself, “What would the Rices do?” I then recalled both Larry and Nick’s individual courtroom demeanors. On this particular day, I chose Nick’s. I then proceeded to conduct the hearing, standing there at the podium armed with my blue pen, checking off questions like I had watched Nick do so many times in Court before. The hearing was quick and successful, and I even received compliments from the Judge on my performance. Afterwards, my clients and fellow students asked me: “How many of those have you done?” My response, “That was my first one.” To which they responded: “Really? But you did so well. Where did you learn how to perform like that?” “Easy,” I responded, “From the Rices.”

This blog is written by the law clerks and interns of Rice Law. They document their experience working with Memphis divorce lawyer Larry Rice and Memphis divorce lawyer Nick Rice, as well as other members of Rice Law. Rice Law represents clients in divorce and family law matters in Tennessee and Mississippi. We hope these blog posts will be interesting and show their evolution as they move towards being divorce and family lawyers. The statements in these posts should not be used as legal advice about divorce or family law.
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