Trial Lawyer Q&A - On the Stand with Justin Murphy - McDermott Will & Emery

On the Stand with Justin Murphy


A former federal prosecutor, Justin Murphy represents corporate and individual clients involved in government enforcement cases, including complex antitrust matters, fraud allegations and all phases of white-collar criminal and related civil proceedings.

In this Q&A, Justin shares what he’s learned from being both a prosecutor and a defense lawyer, how he prepares his clients for trial, and why empathy and compassion always play a role in his strategy.

In Depth

How far in advance do you start preparing a client for a trial?

I start the moment I meet the client.

I think it’s important to begin with the end in mind, and that includes developing a game plan and theme during the first meeting with a client in a new matter. Although most matters may not make it to trial, building a theme that’s consistent with the evidence in the case helps you stay organized and disciplined when presenting the key points. It also helps you focus your message so that it is easy to understand and relatable.

What is one thing you took away from your time as a federal prosecutor?

My time at the US Department of Justice (DOJ) was invaluable, especially the first-hand experience I gained leading investigations and developing cases. The knowledge about how cases are built on the government’s side is vital when I’m developing strategies for my client’s defense.

What are some things every trial lawyer should know about being in a courtroom?

You must know your case. Understanding the facts and your theme(s) gives you confidence in the courtroom and helps you stay calm during a trial’s high-stress moments.

You need to have strong interpersonal skills and be civil. Acting civil doesn’t indicate a lack of passion for your client or their position. It means that you’re steering clear of unnecessary attacks that may frustrate a judge or jury.

It’s also important to be versatile. I’m always willing to learn from others who may have more experience or different approaches—some (or all) of which may be quite effective.

What is one thing about your practice that you want people to know?

Besides my defense experience, I’ve been first chair of US and global investigations and prosecutions at the DOJ, which provided me valuable experience in high-stakes and crucial bet-the-company cases. As a recent example, I was trial counsel for the former CEO of DaVita in the landmark acquittal of the first-ever criminal “no-poach” market allocation case. This case was the first of its kind in the Antitrust Division’s efforts to prosecute certain labor market antitrust issues.

What do you enjoy most about being a trial lawyer?

I enjoy the focus, the authenticity, the energy and the perseverance required for the job. At the top of my list, however, is the empathy and compassion that I need to have for my clients.

The stakes—including reputational risks—are high. Whether my client is an individual or a company, I’m in a special position to assist them during what is likely the worst time of their life. They’re in need of help more than ever, and need empathy, compassion and sometimes a little tough love to get them over the finish line.

My clients don’t always know what they’re up against, and they need a lawyer who can direct and protect them. Everyone deserves a fair trial and an advocate, and I like being part of that process.

Check out more trial lawyer interviews in our On the Stand series.