Vinny Gambini: It’s a procedure. Like rebuilding a carburetor has a procedure. You know, when you rebuild a carburetor, the first thing you do is you take the carburetor off the manifold? Supposing you skip the first step, and while you’re replacing one of the jets, you accidentally drop the jet, it goes down the carburetor, rolls along the manifold, and goes into the head. You’re [screwed]. You just learned the hard way that you gotta remove the carburetor first, right? So that’s all that happened to me today. I learned the hard way. Actually, it was a good learning experience for me.
— My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Every family law lawyer needs at least one trial advocacy book for their divorce law firm and family law firm. It’s much simpler than skipping the first step in court and learning the hard way. There are only so many “good learning experiences” we should have to endure. This month’s review highlights a different learning experience: a practical trial advocacy resource created by family trial lawyers for persuasion in the family courts.


The Divorce Trial Manual: From Initial Interview to Closing Argument is a great basic resource for helping you prepare your divorce law case or child custody case and then present it persuasively. Philadelphia’s Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin and Beverly Hills’ Stephen A. Kolodny are prominent family lawyers who have a long association with the ABA’s Family Law Advocacy Institute. Having trained many lawyers in the art of trial advocacy, they refined their wisdom into this handy 264-page resource for your divorce law firm.

Gold-Bikin and Kolodny provide invaluable guidance by directing advocates to keep their eyes on the prize and to keep it simple. In “Every Case Needs a Theory,” they urge you to concentrate on persuasion in your divorce cases or family law cases:

Your theory is the reason your client should prevail in this case. It is the reason for bringing the action. It is the logical explanation to the court of why the facts fit the law. To put it yet another way, it is a road map for counsel as to where the case starts, where it has to go to accomplish the desired result, and how it can get there. Without a theory, the case is just a bunch of facts that have no structure and lead nowhere. . . .

Similarly, in “The KISS Principle,” Gold-Bikin and Kolodny emphasize keeping it simple (here, in the context of direct examination):

Once the purpose of the witness and his or her ability to advance the particulars of the case have been established, the questions should be designed to get points across and get the witness off the stand. As with a jar of marbles with one special marble in the jar, it’s easier to see the marble amid only a few others, rather than surrounded by hundreds. The questions asked should be brief, so the pearls from the mouth of the witness stand out and shine. . . .

As the subtitle suggests, the manual takes you from the first meeting with the client to the end of the divorce or family law trial. It is practical, concise and immediately accessible. The scope of the tips and techniques includes the initial divorce and family law client interview, organization for your divorce and family law trial (including document management) and litigation, written discovery and family law depositions, theory of the case and strategy, motions, opening statement, direct examination, cross-examination, the choice and preparation of lay witnesses in your divorce and family law cases, experts and reports, closing argument, and evidence (rules, objections, foundations, demonstrative evidence, impeachment, and exhibits).

The manual proceeds in a step-by-step manner with a focus on providing the big ideas in an economy of pages, making this a quick and easy read for every divorce law firm. It offers tips, checklists and sample examinations to help you be persuasive as an advocate at divorce trials and dispute resolutions. It helps you condense the vast amounts of information and documentation in your file into a powerful theme, argument and presentation on behalf of your divorce and family law client. The Divorce Trial Manual also includes a CD-ROM with forms and a 67-page client manual.

Trial is a procedure, and it’s important to know the first thing to do at every step of the divorce and family law trial. Otherwise, like Vinny Gambini, you’re screwed. No sense learning the hard way when The Divorce Trial Manual can help you prepare your divorce and family law case and present it effectively.

Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin, Stephen A. Kolodny, The Divorce Trial Manual: From Initial Interview to Closing Argument (2003, American Bar Association). $119.95.