Tag Archives: trial prep

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.