No iconoclast can possibly escape the severest criticism. If he is poor he is against existing things because he cannot succeed. If he is rich, he is not faithful to his ideals. The world always demands of a prophet a double standard. He must live a life consistent with his dreams, and at the same time must obey the conventions of the world. He cannot be judged either by one or the other, but must be judged by both.
— Clarence Darrow

If you’re familiar with Michael E. Tigar, you will find parallels between his Nine Principles of Litigation and Life and his prior works, including his book Examining Witnesses and his book Persuasion: The Litigator’s Art. Here the focus is on learning to live as a principled trial advocate, striving for excellence, justice and human rights, and embracing the human condition we encounter along the way — all great tools to have in your divorce and family law belt.

Tigar has been an extraordinary lawyer, professor, writer and human rights activist. In his career, Tigar represented Terry Nichols, John Connally, Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Allen Ginsberg. He has earned remarkable recognition during his career, including coming in third in a vote for “Lawyer of the [20th] Century.” Clarence Darrow was first, and Thurgood Marshall was second.

Nine Principles is a rather breezy, 302 pages. Its 5 x 7 format fits easily in your hand, and the stories and concepts challenge you to find purpose in your vocation, including your divorce and family law practice and to live that purpose out through your daily life in the trenches of divorce and child support litigation:

We are in danger of losing our way—to the courthouse, to justice, to principles of living that sustain us. By “we,” I mean each of us individually, and as a profession devoted to helping people claim justice. We don’t need doomsayers and preachers. We need principles of action, in litigation and in life, to keep us on the road, to get us out of the ditch, or to guide us back out of the thicket.

Tigar reminds us that “our job is to listen to, understand, and tell narratives about justice.” Too often, that responsibility is overlooked in the grind of divorce and family law litigation activities. His commentary serves as a sign pointing in one direction, toward justice. “I therefore believe that if you seek out principles about how, why, and for whom to seek justice, that voyage will lead you to discover how to live your life.”

In its 10 chapters, Nine Principles embraces the importance of courage, rapport, skepticism, observation, preparation, structure, candor, empowerment and presentation in your life and in your divorce law firm. Tigar discusses these concepts in enough detail to get your mind flowing. “For me, the goal is to express values and ideas comprehensively, and yet in a way that permits the reader to focus on ideas that he or she finds most useful.”


Each chapter is broken into bite-size pieces of a few pages, perfect for mind breaks when you’re knee-deep in your divorce law cases and family mediation cases. Tigar covers areas like: losing our way and finding it again; the courage to know who you are; rapport with your divorce and family law client, your team, witnesses, judges and jurors; skepticism and trust with your client; skepticism and the human condition; skepticism and your adversary, jurors and the judge in your divorce and family law cases; the concept of “well observed” and learning to observe from different perspectives; preparation, organization and the tasks of divorce and family law trials; structure and legal rules, evidence rules, the case plan, and the elements of trial; candor and you, the other side, the judge, your divorce and family law client, and the witness; empowerment; presentation; “dead reckoning”; show and tell; “markers; and presenting yourself.

Tigar ties these principles into the choices made by trial advocates and shows how those choices shape us and the world around us:

We understand the client in order to help her; we have rapport. We are skeptical about what we hear because we know human frailty and that our version will be subject to challenge by the other side. We use our powers of observation and investigation. We prepare relentlessly. We understand the limits of law, procedure, and rules of evidence: the structure within which we work. We may seek to portray evidence as more or less important, but never sacrifice candor. We empower juries and judges to hear us, even to see the essential justice of our cause even when the structure of rules forces us to mute aspects of demonstrable truth; . . . The lawyers exercised the art of presentation. In this paragraph are eight of the nine principles on which this book is based. The ninth, and first in order, is courage: the courage of one’s convictions, to take on a case like this and to work in a community hostile to our goal.

In our struggles with and within the adversarial system, we cannot escape criticism in your divorce and family law career. So what to do? Live a principled life consistent with our dreams. As Tigar counsels, “Long-term success in this profession depends on understanding justice in human relationships, and that understanding must begin with personalLea and professional dealings.”

Michael E. Tigar, Nine Principles of Litigation and Life (2009, American Bar Association) $39.95.