With a Little Luck
Trial superstitions might or might not help—but they can’t hurt
Published in 2021 Texas Super Lawyers magazine
By Beth Taylor on September 22, 2021
What is your superstition?
John Zavitsanos: I wear a suit made by my father during closing arguments. He had a small tailor shop in Chicago for 40 years. My father worked harder than any person I know. He made many suits for me, but one black suit was his pride and joy. My father could not read or write because he never attended school—due to World War II and the Greek Civil War. He wanted to make sure his son was as well-dressed as the opposing lawyers. He impressed on me that if I wore cheap-looking clothes, judges and juries would not take me seriously. My father passed in 2008, and I have worn that black suit during closing arguments in every one of my 50 or so trials since then. Last year, I had a trial in Oklahoma and realized I did not pack that suit the day before closing arguments. I was in a full panic, so my wife shipped it to me overnight. I got it, gave my closing, and our team delivered a fantastic result.
Bill Chamblee: I always use an orange highlighter. Never, ever blue.
Michael K. Hurst: I play a meaningful song before trial every morning—like: “All I Do Is Win,” “Mean,” “Beer for My Horses,” “My House” or “Vertigo.” I pick up and keep any coin on heads, and avoid tails like the plague. I go out of my way to be even kinder than usual to strangers, doubling down on giving money and food to those outside the courthouse seeking help. And when the trial is going well, I wear the same suit multiple times; always walk in and out the same courthouse door; and park in the same spot.
When/how did it begin?
Zavitsanos: I wore the black suit during a closing argument in 1997.
Chamblee: When I began my practice, I highlighted all my trial notes with an orange highlighter. I didn’t pick orange for any particular reason; it was just in my desk drawer. I tried a handful of lawsuits and was blessed enough to be successful on behalf of my clients. After a handful of trials, all of which were successful, I started another trial in Dallas County. There were no orange markers available, but there was a blue highlighter, which I utilized to highlight my notes for trial. It was the first time I ever lost a case.
Hurst: Song: My first of many big cases tried with Shonn Brown—a case for Mary Kay in front of Judge Lynn. Coin: Don Godwin impressed this one on me when we tried cases when I was a young trial lawyer. Charity: I’m not really sure, but I am all about karma and listening to the universe. Staying the course: It probably began when I was a kid—with game-day socks/underwear for sports; shirts or jeans for my best social scenarios; and special pens for academic success.
Does it work?
Zavitsanos: It definitely makes a difference. It feels like my father, with his 80-hour work weeks—he never took a day off or went on vacation—is right there with me. I begin every closing with a tribute to him.
Chamblee: While I’m absolutely positive the color of the highlighter plays no role in the outcome of a trial, from that day forward I’ve never used a blue highlighter for trial preparation (or anything else, for that matter). There is something to be said for believing in something, and it generally will come true. It’s a silly superstition, and I do not believe in superstitions. Yet I use an orange highlighter to this day.
Hurst: Song: Always. Coin: Generally. Charity: I think so, but regardless, it makes me feel good. Staying the course: Always.
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