Dave Swanner, author of South Carolina Trial Law Blog, has a very resourceful and informative article about “How to Be a Better Trial Lawyer”. In this article he cites 8 great points ranging to involvement in local and national trial organizations to learning anatomy and physics. I think if you take to heart all of his points you have an excellent guidepost to kicking off your trial career. I would only like to add several points that I have picked up in the past three years that have helped me:
- Keep Detailed Records of Values– I use an Excel Spreadsheet indicating the client, type case, insurance agent, insurance company/defense attorney, settlement amount, attorney fees, and month in which the settlement, or trial, occurred. The more detailed your records the better you can understand the other side. There are some attorneys out there that let a case go if a law suit and eventual trial is a strong possibility. You don’t want to be lumped into that category. Keep an eye on verdict reports and SC Lawyers Weekly. Numbers are also more important to your partners and managing attorneys come review time.
- Find Your Passion-Then funnel it into focus for your litigation. This is easy for me because I hate insurance companies for what they did when I was sick with cancer and what they did to my mother when she was dying with lung cancer. I draw from that hatred, which is not healthy, and remind myself that I am the only voice and advocate for my clients. They have come to me because they have been injured, wrongfully accused, misinformed, taken advantage of all their lives, and rest all their confidence on my shoulders. What a great feeling!
- Communicate Without Legalese– You have to speak and explain things like a normal person with your clients, the jury, and the court administrators and personnel. You can use all those fancy words with opposing counsel and corporate clients but the jury is made up of ordinary people in the community, often times not lawyers or professors. Remember the jury’s role from your law school education? As George W. Bushwould say, “They’re Deciders! And they decide things.”
- Keep Templates from Previous Trials/Work-Issues you faced in your first trial will most likely be issues in your subsequent trials. Evidentiary issues on Hearsay and Expert Testimony seem to always crop up. Likewise, pretrial and post trial motions you make can be similar.
- Be Able to Find the Courtroom-I was late to a Minor Settlement Hearing because I failed to do just that. I was already running late and failed to get directions but assumed I could find downtown and thus the Courthouse. It was in Laurens County where the Courthouse doesn’t hold court but had been moved out on the bypass into an old shopping center. By the time I got there I was stressed, flustered and angry at myself. A lot to carry into a courtroom in front of a judge.
- May It Please the Court-remember the logistics of the courtroom and certain formalities. The party with the burden of proof sits closest to the jury, know the number of jury strikes each side is allowed, if you’re the plaintiff will you be allowed the final word after closing, etc.
I think Dave’s tip #7, is the most important one of all. You can’t call yourself a trial attorney if you have never done a trial.