Trying Your First Case
You are an experienced trial or personal injury attorney who is approached in the courthouse by a young attorney, Joe Greenie, who will soon be trying his first case. You can actually smell his fear. Greenie asks you for sage advice that he can cling to as his parachute when he begins his harrowing and public free fall. What do you tell him?
- You are lucky to be a personal injury trial attorney!
You wage courtroom combat in order to compensate the injured, hold wrongdoers accountable and make our community a safer, better and more just place to live. As you step down off your soap box, a tear slowly begins to trickle down your cheek. You do not know if Greenie is moved, but you are. So you continue:
- Don’t panic! It’s OK to be green!
Jurors are usually sympathetic to a young personal injury attorney putting it on the line for the first time. They love and root for underdogs. So don’t be afraid to let your jury know that it’s your first case. I know some trial attorneys who have tried their “first case” fifty times.
- Prepare, prepare, and then prepare some more!
Read your entire file and know your facts cold. Draft your order of proof early. It will be your guide.
- Listen to your client and witnesses during preparation
While you prepare them, they will prepare you to compellingly present your client’s story. Allow their feelings and observations to provide case themes that will resonate with your jury.
- Construct powerful themes
If you have an anchoring theme that can be reduced to one poignant sentence, your chances of winning are greatly enhanced. A now classic example is Johnnie Cochran’s “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” In a product defect case where it is claimed that a dangerous product could have been made safer at minimal cost to the manufacturer, it might be: “This is a case about a greedy corporation putting profits over people.” Or in a contract case, it might be simply: “This is a case about a broken promise.”
- Review the jury instructions and know the law
If the court directs a verdict against your client because you did not know what you were legally required to prove, you’ll be the defendant in the next lawsuit. Also, embrace the language of the charges when presenting your case, so that the jury understands that if they “follow the law”, your client wins.
- Draft a proposed Winning Summation early in your preparation
This and your order of proof will serve as invaluable road maps during your trial. Craft every aspect of your case presentation around the goal of delivering that closing.
- Listen to witnesses on the stand
Friendly fire and hostile fire can be equally lethal to your case. Whether conducting direct or cross-examination, listen carefully to every witness. Your notes do not contain your client’s pained expression or the defendant’s inadvertent concession. If you don’t exploit these openings, your adversary will.
- Summarize and persuade through demonstrative aids.
- Care about your client and believe in your case!
If you don’t, neither will your jury. If you believe, so will they. Happy trials!
To learn more about personal injury law, contact the attorneys at Boyers Law Group, serving Miami and surrounding areas of Florida.