August 2014 Bar Bulletin
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August 2014 Bar Bulletin

The Sniper Defense:

Seven Principles for Defending Against Claims

By Thomas M. O'Toole


Timothy Murphy fired one of the most important shots in American history. It was 1777 in a pivotal battle in the British effort to separate New England from the southern states.

The Americans were gaining critical momentum, but things were still close. As General Simon Fraser emerged and began to vigorously rally British troops, Murphy went into action. He climbed a nearby tree, finding the perfect vantage point, and took aim at Fraser from a distance of approximately 300 yards.

American Revolution scholar Donald Moran recounted the impact of Murphy's shot in his piece "The Saratoga Rifleman:"

As soon as General Fraser fell, a panic spread among the British lines.... General Burgoyne personally took command of the area, but could not rally his demoralized men. The whole British line caved in and men scrambled for the entrenchments around their camp.1

Moran went on to declare that this shot "turned the tide of the most important battle of the Revolution." The importance of the battle, as described by historian Edmund Morgan, lay in the fact that "it won for Americans the foreign assistance which was the last element needed for victory."2

A lot can be learned from sniper warfare and the devastating implications it has for battle. The values that snipers espouse can apply to the development of a defense strategy in litigation and provide critical guidance. So, let's take a look at seven values that apply to a defendant in litigation.

A Sniper Immerses Himself in His Environment

Environmental awareness is the centerpiece of effective communication. An attorney's skill level, like that of the sniper, matters little if he or she has not properly prioritized an awareness of the environment within which he or she will demonstrate those skills.

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