With GTLA Behind You, Going to Trial Doesn’t Have to be so Daunting

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As a young lawyer, more than twenty years ago, I shared a low-rent, midtown office building with a motley crew of small-time, real estate investors, non-profit employees, insurance agents and, yes, lawyers. These lawyers, many of whom became dear friends and mentors, ran the gamut of practice areas from real estate closings to social security appeals to personal injury. But they all had one thing in common—they did NOT want to go to trial or, for that matter, be involved in trial work in any way.

As a solo starting my own practice, I appreciated their wisdom (and their referrals). Perhaps I became a trial lawyer in part because I got the business they didn’t want—I got the trial work. And while they enjoyed my courtroom war stories (or at least tolerated them), they didn’t want to get within 1,000 yards of a courtroom themselves.

Why not? I believe it is because trial work is hard. We trial  lawyers are at the beck and call of trial judges, some of whom were never even trial lawyers themselves. I was recently put on two-hour call to begin a trial in a jurisdiction 1-1/2 hours from my office for more than a week — with my client and my staff on pins and needles making sure my cell phone was constantly charged up to receive the call that might send us all dashing out the door at a moment’s notice. The call never came.

Trial work requires sacrifices. While real estate closings can be scheduled at a lawyer’s convenience, trials must go on even when they conflict with other opportunities or family obligations. I’m sure I’m not the only who has cancelled a family vacation, not because I had a trial (a leave of absence can cover that), but because I needed to prepare for a trial. And as we’ve recently heard in the news, not even maternity leave is always honored by the courts.

And yet, for those of us for whom trial work is a calling, we continue to go to trial. We celebrate our successes and muster the courage and resilience to go back to court again after our losses, committing to do better, improve and fix our mistakes. Throughout it all, the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association has been there for me – teaching me how to be a better lawyer, providing the unique camaraderie that we as trial lawyers share and giving me allies in the fight to preserve the right to trial by jury. I hope GTLA is there for you too.

In this issue of the Verdict, some of our most gifted members have contributed articles about the various parts of a trial. Nelson Tyrone begins with an article on Voir Dire, which is appropriately titled “Voir Dire is Scary.” In the article, though, he takes us on a step-by-step journey through his approach to jury selection, giving an honest, insightful and educational look inside his mind and the minds of potential jurors as he attempts to strike the all-too-familiar balance between advocating for your client and earning the trust of the jury. It is an absolute must-read article for both young and veteran trial lawyers alike.

Also in the Trial Skills edition, GTLA member Lance Lourie provides one of the most thorough looks at the importance of and strategy behind direct examination of your expert witnesses that I have ever read, Past President Jay Sadd digs into his personal notes from more than two decades of representing plaintiffs to give readers a first-hand look inside his approach to closing arguments and Buddy Morrison writes about the often overlooked but vitally important charge conference and jury charge and how preparation can be the key to a successful – and brief – charge.

I think you’ll enjoy these articles and I’m sure you’ll learn something, as I did, and as I always have, from the wisdom of my colleagues.