Tag Archives: litigation

Trial College Brain Mush

7 Jan

As the days of trial college roll on, I become less and less capable of forming coherent thoughts in the evening time.  I’m so darn tired, my thoughts turn to mush.  Tonight after dinner, I somehow found myself in a shopping center, and blasted through $200 on pants and celebrity magazines.

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MINE! ALL MINE!

We only have one lecture session left, then it’s trial prep and TRIAL. We’re trying a personal injury/insurance coverage dispute. The topic gave me a shot of courage, it is right in my wheelhouse. Now if only we could try this case according to Allegheny County rules, then I’d be golden.

I feel like I’ve made big steps in just 3 days.  On day one, I was a little sheepish and afraid to ask the wrong question, or afraid I’d look foolish by saying the wrong thing.  But now that I’ve been up in front of the class several times, I’m feeling more comfortable.  I’m not so worried about saying the wrong thing.  I’m ready to say something and see if it works.  I’m lucky to be in a great class. We’re all 4-7 years in, we have similar trial experience, and there are no gunners (or, if there is a gunner, it’s probably me, but I’m trying to keep that obnoxiousness in check).

Opening statements were the most difficult part of the class for me, and I wish we had a chance to do them again in a classroom setting.  I guess I’ll just have to study up, take a deep breath, and get ready to open on trial day.  Wish me luck! (and wish me sanity!)

Esteemed counsel shocks and thrills the jury with her brilliant argument!

Esteemed counsel shocks and thrills the jury with her brilliant argument!

Unrelated: (maybe?) I keep trying to make a joke about how someone here is totally Ignatius J. Reilly.  Apparently I am THE ONLY PERSON AT TRIAL COLLEGE who has read a Confederacy of Dunces.  More book nerds at trial college, plz.  At least I think I’m funny.

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The theme of the day is THEME THEME THEME!

6 Jan

We’ve focused on the importance of THEME today. Every question you ask, every statement you make at trial must have one purpose: Advancing your theme. And never detracting from it. I do think that I did well with the content and organization of my direct examination. I tried to weed out everything extraneous and get down to brass tacks. My outline consisted of the three points I needed to make, and I made them. I just wish that once I got the feedback, I had an opportunity to try again, so that I could put those comments into practice.

This time I DID prepare. I even volunteered to go first. I was sure I was going to nail it. Well, I didn’t. I didn’t do poorly, but I had trouble controlling my witness, and a few stylistic problems. A lot of the feedback from instructors dealt with very specific word choices, and its hard to make those very specific, fine decisions when you are also specifically trying to question the witness from only a basic outline (instead of reading questions).

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This is a picture of the dinner bells because I couldn’t think of anything else, and because I think it’s funny that they have dinner bells here.

There are two components of trial preparation that we do not have the benefit of, and which make trial college challenging: (1) by the time a case gets to trial, you already have all the facts down cold, because you’ve been working on it for so dang long, and (2) you have more opportunity to practice and practice and practice the components of trial and get feedback on them. The second issue could be remedied in this setting, with keeping a quick pace to instructor feedback, and having the participants each perform examinations of the same witness before the class multiple times. The first one, I guess, would have been addressed if I read and read and read and read the course packet before getting to the CLE, but seeing as (like with most young lawyers) I was spending my time doing work before I got here, it didn’t leave any time to prepare for a CLE. So that’s that.

Terence MacCarthy gave an amazing talk on cross-examination today. His talk is everything a talk should be– he was hilarious, engaging, knowledgeable and challenging. I spend all day reading law, so I don’t usually read law books for fun, but now I absolutely have to read his book on cross examination.

Dinner conversation eased to a halt several times tonight. It wasn’t an awkward halt or an unfriendly halt, just a darn tired halt.   I miss my family, but I am also loving having grown up time. I’m about to go downstairs and work out. Then tonight I’m going to read in bed, and probably fall asleep with all the lights on because that’s how I do.

There is no success without preparation

5 Jan

Trial college went from 7:30am-7pm today, with nary a break in between. Boy am I tired. And I still have homework.

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We focused on opening statements today. I do not like doing openings. I don’t care much for closings either, but openings are my absolute least favorite part of a trial. I’m very much an action/reaction, question/answer, challenge/solution kind of person, and openings are so one sided. It’s a speech, but it’s a speech that you have to make a totally disinterested panel of jurors interested in. It’s super super hard.

Since work has been very busy, I did not do the reading ahead of time and did not prepare my opening ahead of time. I thought “oh heck, it’s a CLE. Who prepares for a CLE?” It’s no defense, but I wasn’t the only one. Out of my class of 8, it was noticeable that only two people prepared ahead of time. And you know what the result of this was? Six less than stellar opening statements.

I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed because I was cocky. I was sitting in the chair thinking “oh heck, I’ll wing it. It’ll be great. I know how to do trials.” But you know what, that’s not true. I’ll do great if I prepare. And I didn’t prepare, so my opening was bad. I’m glad for the lesson. I needed to be cut down to size. Overconfidence does not win trials. Being prepared wins trials.

The instructor (a distinguished Virginia Circuit Court Judge) remarked that my opening sounded more like an appellate brief than an opening statement. He was completely right. Big words and complex sentence structures doesn’t win over juries. I need to remember my audience.

I’ve learned helpful lessons today. Though I fell flat on my face in my opening, I am proud that I did not get defensive and try to justify my performance. I listed to the instructor’s comments and realized Yes. He’s right. I did it wrong. He’s telling me I did it wrong because he is trying to help me.

I did it wrong today, but I’ll do it right tomorrow. And even if I do it right tomorrow, I still need to listen closely, because there is so much more to learn.

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