Exceptional attorneys understand that a case is often won or lost long before opening statements are delivered. They recognize that their verdicts rest in the hands of the folks who sit on the jury. In fact, Lisa Blue will tell you, “It’s all in the jury.” And when it comes to jury selection, Blue is the best of the best. She wrote the book on it. Several, actually. Blue is not only a celebrated author, she’s a practicing psychologist and nationally acclaimed plaintiffs’ lawyer who is near peerless when it comes to conducting voir dire.
Blue believes that “doing a great jury selection is exactly like doing therapy.” After earning her PhD in Counseling Psychology from North Texas State University, Blue went on to work as a psychologist in Houston, where she treated teenagers at a drug abuse hospital. It was there that a spur-of-the-moment invitation forever shaped Blue’s life and career. She fell in love with jury selection, something that would become her entry point to an enduring and fruitful career in law.
Despite all her success, Blue is selective when it comes to her memories. “I only remember the cases I lost. I have no memory of my wins,” Blue says. “I remember pain more than joy.” The power of this discomfort has proven to be great fuel for this nationally recognized powerhouse who, with her late husband Fred Baron, built one of the largest environmental law firms in the U.S. – Baron and Blue.
More recently, Blue teamed up with five other legendary litigators to form Athea Trial Lawyers, a unique firm that shares resources in pressing cases and advocates for the advancement of women in the industry. Blue is also a member of the Lawdragon Hall of Fame.
Blue partially attributes her success in her various fields to a robust mindfulness and meditation practice – a service she now provides for judges and lawyers alike. What started as a passion project born of the pandemic has caught on like wildfire and illuminated a desperate need in the industry. Blue has not only had to rely on her knowledge, judgment and experience – she’s had to check her ego at the door. In so doing, Blue has etched out a truly singular space for herself.
Lawdragon: How did you first decide to become a lawyer?
Lisa Blue: That's a good question. I was a PhD psychologist in Houston, and I was treating teenagers in a drug abuse hospital. It turned out that a lot of these kids' parents were trial lawyers. I figured out later that was because Houston was where the really good juries were at the time. Houston back in the 1980s was very liberal, so all the great plaintiffs’ lawyers were there. When their kids had problems, they’d come to me. One day I had a patient's father say, "Hey, would you like to come help me pick a jury?" So I went to court – that was my first experience and that really influenced me. It was very unexpected and just spur of the moment, "Hey, you want to go to court?" And I fell in love. I thought, wow, this is really fun.
LD: What made you choose South Texas College of Law for law school, and how was that experience for you?
LB: It really kind of chose me. I had the best job in the world – I had a private practice with a psychiatrist in the medical center in Houston. And then I got to head up a drug abuse hospital in Deer Park, which is right outside of Houston. So when I had the experience of having all these lawyers be my patients because of their children, I said, "You know what? I want to go to law school to understand more of this.” I never thought I'd practice law, because I loved the psychology part. I worked my way through law school and when I got my first job as a DA, I thought, "God, this is heaven, because I get to talk to people." So ultimately, I got to do both – I got to maintain a private practice and go to law school.
LD: The best of both worlds. And you’ve gone on to try – how many cases, have you kept count?
LB: I've always loved trying cases. I've tried 125 criminal cases as first chair. On civil cases, as first chair, I have tried a little over a hundred. I got lucky because I was a DA for around six or seven years, and I was an asbestos toxic tort lawyer. At that time, we were trying three or four asbestos cases a month.
LD: What are the trials that stand out as memorable to you?
LB: It's funny, I only remember the ones I lost. I have no memory of my wins. I felt great about them, but it's the losses that sting and you remember that pain. Having to tell the family I'm not going to be able to help you, you're not going to get your medical bills paid. I remember pain more than joy, because it’s something you don’t want to feel.
LD: What are the joyful parts of law for you?
LB: What I've really learned as a trial lawyer, and I believe this in my heart, is it's all in the jury, because the jury is going to determine how they filter the evidence. So that's always been my love. I've written six or seven books on jury selection with Robert Hirschhorn.
My passion has always been judges and trial lawyers. I have this passion for what trial lawyers do and what they have to put up with. That is what really took me to jury selection, because picking a jury, you really get to use what you do as a psychologist. I've watched a lot of great lawyers, and I think to myself, "Boy, you'd be a great psychologist," because they know how to listen – those are the ones that are great at jury selection. They know what they're after.
LD: I wonder if you could give us some top-level advice or insights, if there's something you were going to impart to the younger generation of trial lawyers, with regards to jury selection.
LB: My best advice, like anything, is that you're never going to get good at something unless you do it. That's number one. Number two is: Throw away your ego.
It’s funny, my most memorable moments are during voir dire. When I was in Fort Worth and I said to a juror, "I've just been talking about pain and suffering. I would like to know your definition of pain and suffering." That juror said to me, "My definition of pain and suffering has been listening to you for two days." You know what I said? I said, "You sound like my husband." I've had jurors say to me "Miss Blue, I think you're sleazy. I think you're the reason why our insurance rates are so high."
LB: Oh I've had people just destroy me in court. The way you handle it is you say, "I bet some other jurors are thinking the same thing. If you're sitting there thinking the same thing, please raise your hand." The key to jury selection is getting all the people on the jury panel that hate you and hate your case to raise their hand and say, "I hate you and your case, and I want off this jury." It's that simple, jury selection. It doesn't have to be complicated.
LD: How does psychology come into play?
LB: Doing a great jury selection is exactly like doing therapy. It's not only about understanding people; it's how to handle people. How to make everything not be about the lawyer. I think if I have any talent in jury selection, it’s that I'm so happy no matter what the person says. I'm not looking for a compliment – I'm curious. I'm just looking to see how they really feel about the kind of case I'm doing. When I teach jury selection, I talk about the first 45 seconds of my therapy sessions. Because my first 45 seconds, that introduction is the same whether I'm picking a jury or I'm talking to a new patient.
LD: That's fascinating. And how did you initially become involved with politics?
LB: I love politics. I've been president of the American Trial Lawyers, which is now the American Association for Justice, but I was also president of the National Trial Lawyers. I did that because I love lawyers, and I'm so sensitive to how our laws affect what we do all the time. All that has to happen is another limit on damages, and then the lawyers wake up and say, "Gosh, how did that happen?" They're not watching how these laws, national and state, are shaping their clients’ rights. When I married my husband in 1980, he was very involved in politics – Presidential, the Senate, state, everything. It just really rubbed off on me. My husband used to say every day: "Politics matter." And they really do.
With the new laws on abortion, with gun laws not being restricted, there's so many political issues that are now touching women more than men. And with our Supreme Court, I think that that piece, that political piece, whether it's unconscious or not, is going to make women feel like they better get into more power. Because the women in this country are watching their rights just get peeled away, and I think that should really energize our gender.
LD: You teach mindfulness and meditation to judges, correct?
LB: Oh my God. I love it.
LD: How did that come about?
LB: Covid hit. I'm in Dallas and I'm watching my fellow trial lawyers and the courts, and things are not going well in Dallas – I mean we are shut down tight. I'm watching the trial lawyers saying, "God, how am I going to pay my staff? I can't turn cases." I see this flurry of activity of depression and anxiety. So during Covid I got really into the literature on depression, suicide, anxiety, alcoholism. I wanted to do something as a psychologist to help my trial lawyer friends. So I decided to do something that no one else in the industry, I don't think, has ever done, which is do a visual meditation mindfulness class. I have now done 125 of them, and I have over 500 people that subscribe to it.
LD: So how does it work?
LB: It's free. It's every Monday, and the beauty is you can show up and you blank out your camera and you mute, and it's all visual slides. It takes about 18 to 22 minutes, but here's the good news: if you miss it, because lawyers are very busy, it's sent to you the next week. It's been great.
This is my belief as a psychologist and a trial lawyer: after Covid you don't know what all these people are going through. You just don't. People aren't talking about it and the studies aren't far enough along to see the real effect. But God, over a million people died. That's just stunning. Over a million. And the divisiveness that it's caused.
LD: It's so true. The mindfulness and meditation is so needed right now.
LB: It's so needed, yes. Really for trial lawyers and especially judges, and that's my new latest and greatest passion in life – emotional and social intelligence for judges. It hasn't been published yet, but I wrote a whole book about it. Because here's what I'm finding: lawyers, when they have issues, depression, anxiety, they can go to a group put on by the state bar. Judges have nowhere to go. They cannot go in the public eye, because then people say, "Oh look, that judge is crazy." "Oh look, that judge can't work. They're depressed." So it's a terrible situation for judges.
LD: How did you discover meditation and mindfulness as a practice?
LB: When my husband died, I went on antidepressants. I got Lexapro and Prozac and I did all that. Then I fell in love again with a famous TV actor, Larry Hagman. And when he died, I called one of my very best friends, my brother who's a psychologist in Atlanta. I said, "I don't know what to do. I'm so depressed because I lost my second soulmate and I don't know whether to go back on antidepressants, or what I should do."
He said, "Lisa, go to California and meet with this psychologist who's also a Buddhist monk by the name of Jack Cornfield, and just see if you can get through your depression without drugs this time." So I went out and I met Dr. Jack Cornfield, and he's been a huge mentor to me on the psychology side. I developed a mindfulness meditation practice to control my own depression and anxiety.
LD: Can you tell us a little about your other mentor, Mark Lanier? What did you learn from him?
LB: What I learned from Mark Lanier was really how to live life. He's a great lawyer. I've been studying under him and picking his juries for over 35 years, and what I love about him is, number one, his relationship with God. He's a Baptist preacher. I always tease him because in every case, he's so calm. Never has anxiety before he starts the big opium cases against all these defendants. I'm nervous. He's never nervous. I'm convinced it's his relationship with God. He teaches every Sunday.
His second superpower is his ability to super focus. He tries these cases that are two, three, four months long. And he's the only lawyer putting on all the witnesses. Now that's pretty amazing.
And number three, I've finally figured out after more than 35 years, is his ability to play. He lights up when he talks. He'll go to Kmart, Target, and he goes to the toy section and he looks around, he finds toys that he can use in the case and they're always marvelous. They're fun, they're memorable – they're great teaching aids. He's a genius.
The reason I fell in love with him is because of my learning disabilities – being dyslexic and having anxiety. His ability to put everything into visual pictures made me realize, "Hey, I'm not stupid. Now I understand it," because that's the only way I learned.
LD: You’re a member of Athea Trial Lawyers, a groundbreaking collective of top-of-their-game female attorneys. What does it mean to you to be part of it?
LB: I would start with a psychological thought, in that it's very emotional and meaningful that at this stage of my law practice, I can spend it with people that I love, that I want to be with, and that have an amazing ability to think outside the box. All these women are geniuses, they really are. It's very meaningful just to be part of this group. And what's most meaningful is hopefully to pass on what I've learned. Because we all teach, and we speak to women, and we want to see women do what Athea has done in whatever way they can. It's a great way to practice.