Young, eager and prepared beats experienced but burnt-out
“Jury trials” is my response when a young or inexperienced lawyer asks me what he or she can do to further their career as a plaintiff lawyer. There is nothing more important than getting into a courtroom early in one’s career and trying a case in front of a jury. Because if you do it once, you may find yourself so invigorated by the experience that you will then never shy away from a jury trial again. You might even lose in a spectacular fashion that first time. But you will gain confidence from the experience. And that confidence will lead you to another jury trial. And before you know it, you will have ten jury trials under your belt, which is a whole bunch more than most lawyers in California.
As a young lawyer, you can spend years answering discovery and taking depositions, but none of that prepares you for a jury trial. There is only one way to learn how to try a case: get in the courtroom and do it.
Facing your first jury trial is daunting, no doubt. There are so many rules and procedures that you are not even aware of until they suddenly arise during the trial. But that is part of the learning experience.
That is why CAALA is so important for young lawyers. The resources, information, and advice that a lawyer can receive from all the other trial lawyers is invaluable. It certainly makes the process less intimidating knowing you are using the same tools as those who have successfully used them for years.
Your best weapon
There is one weapon that young, inexperienced lawyers sometimes have over their veteran defense counterparts: motivation. By that, I mean a young, eager lawyer who wants to win, and win badly, is usually willing to spend whatever amount of time is necessary to prepare for trial. Contrast this to the burnt-out defense attorney who is just going through the motions and thinks he or she has the verdict in the bag already.
A case in point
My third trial was a case against an automobile manufacturer and involved an alleged defective part in the driver’s seat that failed in a rear-end collision. The plaintiff injured her back and required surgery. The theory was pretty straight-forward. But the defendant auto manufacturer offered ZERO to settle the case. The trial was in Victorville. My firm handed me the file a month before the trial and said, “Go get some more jury experience.”
I read the file and muttered to myself, “How in the hell do I ever win this?” But I forged ahead and started to see some good evidence and arguments that might just work.
I’ll never forget the first day of trial. The judge (as most judges do) pushed us to settle. Defense counsel said his client wasn’t going to settle. The judge turned to him and said, “Can’t the company put up some money, or the cost of defense, and force Plaintiff to turn it down?”
It was defense counsel’s response that still motivates me today. He said, in open court, “Your Honor, some cases just need to be tried. We aren’t offering a dime.”
So I spent two weeks in Victorville in some dumpy motel. It snowed. I hadn’t even considered snow and froze my butt off. I worked late into the night, every night, where I could barely keep my eyes open. But I was totally prepared for every witness. My bosses would talk to me by phone at night and give me advice and guide me through what to do the next day. There was no second chair, no paralegal. I lugged all the exhibits into court myself.
The defense lawyer took the whole thing very casually. Every morning he’d ask me things like, “Did you watch that Laker game last night?” I knew he wasn’t preparing at all, like the outcome was a foregone conclusion. He later told me he had won 20 trials in a row for this client.
The ultimate equalizer
As the trial progressed, I started feeling better and better about our chances. I could tell the judge was into the case. I could sense a bit of urgency suddenly creeping into the defense attorney’s attitude. I could sense the jurors taking this seriously.
And when all was said and done, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, something like $350,000. My client was ecstatic.
If I learned one thing from that trial, it is that jury trials are the ultimate equalizer when one side has far more power and prestige than the other. And anything can, and usually does, happen in a jury trial. Preparation and hard work are often the difference-makers in close cases, and sometimes even in those that seem like longshots to win.
So the bottom line is this: Go try cases!
David M. Ring is a partner with Taylor & Ring, where he specializes in plaintiffs’ personal injury and wrongful death cases. He also specializes in representing victims of crime, particularly victims of sexual abuse, assault or harassment, in civil cases and has obtained many precedent-setting verdicts and settlements in that area of law. He was named Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year (2015) by California Lawyer. The Daily Journal selected him as one of the Top 25 Plaintiff Lawyers in California (2015).
Copyright © 2020 by the author.
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