Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jury Trials & Tribulations

Our firm has a monster of a trial coming up ... and I was enlisted to help! When I say monster, I do mean monster. There is one plaintiff, who in essence represents over 80 people, four defendants and four third party defendants. As the defendants we get to defend claims against the Plaintiff as well as pursue claims against the third party defendants. Plus, this case involves 10 causes of action, none of which have been settled by motion or summary judgment. It's pretty exciting around here!

So Partner sends me an email asking for my assistance in preparing for trial. Then Associate walks into my office:

Associate: "Hey, did you get Partner's email? Do you know what you need to help with?"
Me: "Yes, I got it right here. Prepare jury instructions and.... motions in lime?"
Associate: "Um, you mean 'motions in limine.' Do you think you can handle those? I'll give you all the prior status reports and pleadings that you will need."
Me: "Sure, no problem. Actually, I'm pretty excited."
Associate: "Good."

Associate walks out of my office. I take a big breath, turn to my computer screen and immediately google "motions in limine." This is the epitome of being thrown into practice. You get to work on assignments you never knew existed with names you can barely pronounce. Like voir dire....who the hell came up with that term?

Then there's the jury instructions. The first ten jury instructions were kind of fun. You have to establish the elements and burdens of proof for each claim and try to present them in a coherent fashion to the jury. Except the pattern jury instructions are dripping with legalese. I re-read them and kept thinking to myself- really? I barely understand this definition of proximate cause and I went to lawschool. You're going to pull 12 random people off the street and talk to them about superceding causes unbroken by a direct chain of sequential events? Good luck with that. I might as well write all these jury instructions in Chinese. The jury can just decide which party is correct by which witnesses have the most realistic looking toupes.

Also, I have a beef with exhibit lists. Can someone please explain to me why I have to review an "exhibit list" containing 997 exhibits? Seriously? My poor brain can't handle it all. Why do we even need exhibits? I mean people swear to tell the truth (the whole truth and nothin' but the truth) anyway, right (ha ha)?

After I'm done with all that, I get to work on voir dire questions and a trial brief. Cool huh? Actually, I have no idea because I have never seen a single set of voir dire questions and I have no idea what a trial brief is! Let the fun begin!

The crazy thing is that most cases never get this close to trial. Many lawyers never really get a chance to do trial prep work. I should feel lucky that I get some of this experience so early on in my career. But I can't help but be amazed at how much of the trial prep for this high stakes case is being done by lawyers who have no idea what they are doing (me!). Then I reemember, in the field of law, you never have all the answers.


Shantelle said...

"Now, if Mr. Trotter wishes to vwah dyer the witness, I'm sure he's going to be mowah than satisfied."*

*some spellings altered to reflect Noo Yok accent

All life experiences can be summarized with My Cousin Vinny. SO excited for you, you kick A$$!

EH said...

Hee hee! You sound like me four years ago. I love it! I think we've all googled legal terms on the job. :)

Butterflyfish said...

Loves it.

LL said...

I don't know what I would do without google. I used it my first day in litigation and just about every day since :)

Sounds like you're getting awesome work - that's so great!

Ellen said...

Hello. I enjoy your blog, but I am wondering if you are concerned about a public blog containing statements that you have no idea what you are doing on the job (even if made in jest). I would just be concerned that given the adversarial nature of what you do the client (or even opposing counsel) could get upset or use the statements against you in some way? Good luck w/ trial.

Cee said...

Hi Ellen, good qt. In general, I'm not sure. In this particular instance though I am not worried. This isn't my case and my name is not going to be on any pleadings- I'm just assisting and all my work will be reviewed by the Partner. I think a lot of attorneys face the problem of not knowing exactly what they are doing- usually in law (at least in my experience), you are constantly dealing with new issues that you've never had to deal with before-no matter how many years of practice you have under your belt. The rules of ethics allow attorneys to take cases in areas of law in which they are inexperienced as long as they can become competent (through research and by asking other attorneys for guidance). Essentially this is what happens on a daily basis for me. I'm faced with all kinds of projects that i have never done before- I have to look up the applicable rules, apply the caselaw and seek the guidance of a partner.

In general I worry about being "discovered" by people i work with but at least I use a fake identity on this blog- of course, that's never fool proof. Ialso never specifically mention clients or the cases I'm working on. I think, for now, I'm ok with the risks of having a public blog. I may have to re-evaluate in the future though.

LEO said...

That's pretty great experience you're getting. The stuff you're working on sounds like the kind of fake assignments we were given for the bar exam performance tests. I don't currently have a desire to be in litigation, but it was pretty fun working on jury instructions and exhibit lists for 2-3 hours at a time, then being done.