Five Trial Tips For New Attorneys

December 01, 2022

1. Be organized.

Simple, right? Not quite. You must of course organize before trial to make trial smooth. Some easy examples include:  before each day at trial, ensure that you have all exhibits labeled, copied, and packed; prepare each exhibit in the order that the trial outlines suggest; ensure that witnesses remember to appear at trial; know which witnesses will appear and have each of their witness binders ready.  And have important authorities printed and available.

At every trial however, the unexpected often occurs, forcing split decisions to be made. This may include:  having to re-number or re-letter exhibits; having to adjust what documents to bring based upon the speed of the trial, the availability of the witnesses and parties, and the split decisions of the court and your partner; and if you are examining a witness, you may need to reorganize your trial outline.

2. Pay attention.

Your input is valuable. You have done the hard work of preparing for the case, now use that knowledge! Decisions are made at trial based upon many factors including the reactions of the finder of fact, opposing counsel, your partner.  During voir dire and during the case, listen to the testimony and write questions you think should be asked.  Make sure the examiner in your firm does not miss a question you know he or she wants to ask, and alert them if they do. When witnesses and parties are testifying, scan the room for reactions to see if and how your case can be better. If you are examining witnesses, be willing to ask new questions you may have when listening to the other witnesses. If you are examining witnesses, check in with your partner about the possibility of a re-direct or re-cross. If you are addressing the judge, listen closely. The court may be on your side and you do not want to make it difficult for the judge to help you.

3. Field client concerns.

You may find yourself physically closer to the partner than to the client. This may be because you are assisting with exhibits, handing the partner questions, or just because you are sitting  next to the partner.  Make sure however that the client has a way to communicate with you either through a sticky note or paper and pen.  During trial, the partner may be busy examining a witness. Read what the client has to say and see if you can address client concerns before it reaches the partner. If they bring up issues or questions the partner should know, let the partner know at an appropriate time.

4. Communicate, but most importantly ask for help if needed.

Make sure you are in contact or someone in your team is in contact with the witnesses, the clients, opposing counsel, and the judge, and the clerk. At trial make sure to be in constant communication with your team so that everyone knows what to do at any given time. If you do not know what you need to do, ask. If you do not know what the plan is, ask. If you need help, ask. You are the zealous advocate for your client. Do not put the case in jeopardy by being afraid to ask. 

5. Be prepared.

Last but certainly not least, be prepared. I will not belabor the point, but you do not know if you will unexpectedly be asked to examine a witness or to make a snap decision about the order of the trial. Prepare the case as if you were to try it.  You will get the most visibility at trial in front of the partner.  Use this high stake opportunity to impress.