Preparing for Trial: What Every Client Should Know
What happens if you can’t settle your case? You gear up for trial.
When your case ultimately reaches trial, meaning, when the parties cannot agree upon liability (fault) or damages (injuries), it is important that the client and trial lawyer are prepared. You may have heard the saying in real estate, "location location location." When it comes to trial, it's preparation, preparation, preparation! There is no substitute.
I tell clients it is our obligation to, as plainly and concisely as possible, educate a jury as to how the accident occurred, how the injuries were sustained, and how the client was and continues to be affected. And, we only get one shot at it! For myself, as well as other trial attorneys, this means meeting with the client for many hours, usually over several days, going over what is expected of them, what I will be asking them on direct examination, and what they can anticipate will be asked of them under cross examination.
Some clients ask, "won't it seem like we 'rehearsed' my testimony?" This is a valid question, but here is my standard and learned response: You are not rehearsing WHAT to say (you always testify truthfully, so the answer never changes), it's preparing HOW to answer questions. Juries want to know you take the case seriously. By the time trial rolls around, many months, sometimes years have passed since the day of the accident. So, a jury is turned off by an unprepared witness. If you’re not able to answer a simple question, or if you look disinterested in your own case, why would a jury feel justified to compensate you? I tell my clients: you're damn right we are prepared for trial - we waited a long time to tell you, the jury, what happened that day and how it has affected my client!
So, long, pregnant pauses for simple questions such as can you tell us what the weather was like, are somewhat disingenuous. If I was sitting on a jury and it looked like trial was the first time the attorney and his client talked about the case, I would be turned off. And that has been my experience with juries. They want to know that you are prepared and are interested in your own case.
The key here is to make my client feel as relaxed as possible, and to remind you that this is not TV. The best advice I can give is to be yourself, don't overdo it (I once had a client say he was hit so hard the song on his radio skipped!) and don't under do it (telling a jury in a wimpy tone you just learn to deal with the pain, when in reality it has affected you for so long that you simply have learned to deal with it).
I bring my clients in many times before trial, usually over weekends, when they can relax and focus. We have a mock courtroom where if necessary we can prepare a client for the feel of the courtroom. I have even met a client at the courthouse and showed her exactly where the judge, jury, she and I will sit.
The process of going to trial is nerve-wracking, for all involved, no matter how long you have been doing it. However, there is no excuse, EVER, for not being prepared to do your best when you only get one opportunity to try to convince a jury that you should prevail. More importantly, it is your responsibility to make them want to compensate an injured client. A relaxed, honest and fully prepared client is the ultimate goal.