My ramblings on trial prep

18 Oct

I have a love / hate relationship with trial prep. On one hand, it’s exciting. You have the anticipation of “doing battle” and Attorney B walks around saying things like, “I’m going to kick his ass!” and I’m all “Yeah! He’s full of shit!” (Because that sounds so much edgier than, “Yeah! I found an article that totally contradicts their expert’s testimony on the indications for the procedure!”) And I swear on my coffee mug that once I heard “Eye of the Tiger” coming from Attorney B’s laptop speakers. Honest, I couldn’t make this crap up.

Most of the time my job entails me slogging through medical records or depo summaries, while Attorney A and B are off working on other cases, or God knows what. I actually enjoy trial prep because it’s one of the few times that the attorney and I are both knee-deep in the same file, bouncing ideas off each other, and discussing the issues. We’re discussing the testimonies, and the opinions and the medical literature. We start talking about exhibits involving anatomy and timelines and, my favorite thing of all, Power Point. Yes, I am such a geek that I love to do Power Point presentations. Not those boring, bullet style only presentations. I mean the ones with highlighted testimony that jumps out at you, and pictures. Okay, it’s not all that sexy or cutting edge, but it’s way better than just a static blow up of a depo page. I get excited thinking about how we can educate the jury and help them understand the medical issues and the timeline of the events without falling asleep, or making up their grocery list in their head. Yep, total nerdfest.

Trial prep will invariably lead to MORE research and MORE background research on the experts. That can also be exciting because you may wind up with an awesome article that totally blows their expert’s opinion away or, even better, an old deposition where their expert contradicted himself. But that also leads to more stress. Usually, I’m in the middle of making sure we’ve got all the medical records subpoenaed for trial, or one of the other mundane tasks when Attorney flies into my office, or worse, calls me on speakerphone, and comes up with yet another research task or project that he’s just this second thought about. It seems that no matter how much I try to think ahead and do before crunch time, he always comes up with something else that must be done. Preferably NOW, or more accurately, yesterday. But, I may have mentioned before, I’m a masochist and I actually enjoy the chaoticness of it all. (Until I have to start thinking about how I’m going to get my kid picked up from daycare before 6 or what the hell I’m going to wear to trial without repeating outfits 4 times. Then I start panicking a bit.)

What I don’t enjoy is when Attorney starts freaking out because he hasn’t focused on the trial until 2 or 3 weeks before he’s supposed to be picking a jury. Then he starts saying things like, “We need to get focused on this,” (duh, I’ve been working on it for the past month, where have you been?) or “There needs to be a sense of urgency about this.” Again, duh! He usually makes that last statement when I am calm and collected, whereas he is freaking out. Then I have to assure him that yes, I did subpoena everyone and their brother; yes, all the depos are summarized; and yes, there are 5 billion copies of everything you might need and more.

I really wish I could tell you what needs to happen to keep all of this from happening. But there just isn’t anything. It seems that all attorneys get stressed and neurotic before trial. You either work for an attorney who is calm and on top of things, or more accurately, trusts that YOU are calm and on top of things, or you work for an attorney like mine that flips out and you have to talk him down, but don’t appear TOO CALM or he may think you don’t have the appropriate sense of urgency. Heaven forbid.

My most practical advice for trial prep would be: Come up with a trial prep checklist or game plan well ahead of time. Invariably, I always forget one little thing I could have done before I start getting projects fired at me in quick succession. Try and sit down with your attorney and discuss trial prep as far ahead of time as you logically can. Failing that, whenever you get a chance, pick their brain about what types of exhibits they may want, further research that may be needed, etc. My attorneys want just about everything scanned. My bosses also keep their own working copy notebooks of discovery and pleadings. In some firms it may be the legal assistant’s job, but always make sure the pleadings and discovery files are in good order and scanned files are complete. Unless you’re getting updated medical records in at the last minute, make sure you have the best possible copy of all the medical records to be submitted as an exhibit, and to be used in your other exhibits. Even if you are 99.9% sure that the case is settled or otherwise not going forward, do not get rid of ANYTHING until there is an Order continuing the trial or Settlement Agreement.   Make sure you’ve got a box of supplies for the courtroom, full of notepads, multiple boxes of pens, every highlighter you can get your hands on, post -its and anything else you think you could ever need and more.

Usually, it’s the personal stuff that causes me more grief during trial prep than anything else. As I mentioned, I start worrying about being able to pick up my kid by 6 from preschool or arranging for someone to be on standby in case I’m still at the office at 6. NEVER plan anything for at least the two weekends prior to trial. Plan on being in the office the weekend before the trial date, at the very least. Also plan on eating a lot of lunches at your desk in the weeks leading up to trial prep and drinking a lot of coffee.

Also, clean out your car. Wash and vacuum it. You may end up shuttling clients, attorneys and experts back and forth from the courthouse to your office or even picking experts up from the airport. I was not expecting to be called to pick up Attorney A, the client, an expert and an associate from the courthouse one day. And all their briefcases and boxes of documents. I opened up the back of my SUV and there was the plastic turtle sandbox I had picked up at lunch a couple of days before and had forgotten to take out of the car. Mr. Turtle held more than sand that day. I think somebody had to put their briefcase in T’s carseat. Good thing it wasn’t that far back to the office.

I’ve also done kamikaze runs to the car wash and vacuumed out my car before speeding to the airport to pick up an expert I had never met or even spoken to. Otherwise, Mr. Expert would probably have been walking into the courthouse with Cheerios stuck to his butt.

And my biggest worry before trial? What the hell am I going to wear. Medical malpractice trials can frequently last two weeks or longer. That’s a lot of outfits to try not to repeat. Do yourself a favor and make sure you’ve inventoried your closet well ahead of time and give yourself time to make a trip to the mall BEFORE the chaotic weekend before trial.

But, despite the mayhem and pain-in-the-assedness of it all, I do enjoy trial prep. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to work on appearing to have a sense of urgency. Pronto.

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15 Responses to “My ramblings on trial prep”

  1. Practical Paralegalism October 18, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    Awesome post – love the insider’s view into trial prep. I’ve panicked about having enough court-appropriate ensembles (mix and match all the way, peeps) – but getting my car cleaned out is a new one 🙂 No Cheerios in my ride – but plenty of dog hair…

    • Momalegal October 19, 2010 at 9:14 am #

      Thanks! Yep, separates are a must. Don’t even get me started on the dog & cat hair. The Cheerios are bad enough! 🙂

  2. Corporate Paralegal October 19, 2010 at 11:50 am #

    LOVE the idea about cleaning out your car! I am going to pass that along to my students.

    While I don’t do trial prep anymore, your advice can still translate to other jobs. For instance, around here, board meetings take about two weeks of our time with board members hanging around for a few days. So – while I may not need to clean out my car, it is not a bad idea to clean (read – tame those dust bunnies) off my desk. During those two weeks, all of the executive team walks around with a “deer in the headlights” look and my boss usually comes running at me every 5 minutes with more research projects that he anticipates the board will bring up. Your advice, to me, translates to stay calm and in control and things will go much better. So, I keep myself in control and am better able to handle those research projects that demand so much of my time.

    As for clothing, thank goodness I don’t have to worry about different outfits. I do, however, have to worry about running around the building. So chic and stylish heels become cute and adorable flats – which are hard to find!

    • Momalegal October 19, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

      Amen – really great flats are hard to find and I need to go on a hunt for some SOON!

  3. Ronnie October 19, 2010 at 1:35 pm #

    All excellent points! I will be sure to remind my paralegal that she should be grateful that we’re right across the street from the courthouse and that she can work remotely from home (and this includes sending exhibits to the firm copier, lovely item) :D. Seriously though, she keeps me from going crazy at the last minute. We don’t have 2-week trials, but I’ve got two change of custody trials and two modification of child support trials in 8 weeks, so switching from one client to another is tricky, and she keeps it all in check. Godsends you paralegals are!!!

    • Momalegal October 19, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

      Thanks! Of course, you get big kudos for acknowledging how awesome paralegals are! 🙂 Holy crap, just keeping the parties names straight with your trials must be a huge accomplishment.

  4. Another ParaLegal October 19, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    Love this one Mom! I had to pick up a witness in my 10 year old Neon…complete with Dorito bags, water/Powerade bottles AND happy dog nose prints all over the windows. Thankfully he was a dog person and that was our topic of conversation! Not the ice breaker I wanted, but hey – take them where you can get them right?

    • Momalegal October 19, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

      Isn’t it great when you can find something easy to talk about with them instead of talking about how trial is going or small talk? So glad I’m not the only one making surprise runs to get witnesses in less than pristine cars! (And mine is 10+ years old, too)

  5. Ronnie October 19, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    Oh, and you’re a masochist, not a sadist. Sadists enjoy inflicting pain, whereas you clearly enjoy having pain inflicted on you, lol!

    • Momalegal October 19, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

      Ok, thank you for that, I always get them mixed up! (Obviously, it doesn’t come up often! ha!) Yesterday was not the most stellar day I have had in terms of brain power. And at one point I thought I should double check that, but then the phone rang and that thought was GONE.

  6. Amanda Hazel October 21, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    Although I don’t have Cheerios or Doritos in my car, I do have sacks from MickeyD’s and Sonic. That’s the life of a college student who works (when I was working). You eat on the run.

    Your tips for trial prep are great! I’ll definitely keep them in mind.

    • Momalegal October 21, 2010 at 8:30 pm #

      OMG, you should have seen my car when I was in school & working full time. Ugh. It’s only slightly better now with an hour commute and a 3 year old.

  7. Ky October 21, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    I thought your post was so spot on! As a Mom/paralegal myself I could relate. I hope you don’t mind I shared it on twitter. @paralegalmagic

  8. Cher October 25, 2010 at 10:43 am #

    Wow…they certainly wouldn’t like me then…a fire could barely get me going. LOL I just don’t hurry at all, and if pushed, I shut down completely.

    I remember the “OMG, trial might be coming and I have to go shopping” trips to the mall. I miss those, actually. 🙂

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