Lenore Shefman, Personal Injury Trial Attorney
Very few non-lawyers know the difference between a personal injury trial lawyer, and an attorney advertising as a personal injury lawyer. Being a personal injury trial lawyer is about understanding what happens when you walk up to the courthouse to present your clients case before a jury of their peers.
Presenting a clients case for jury trial usually begins several years prior to the actual trial. The day the client walks into the doors of your office, every question should be focused on the facts that have been ascertained, their admissibility at trial, the facts needed, how to admit those facts at trial, what witnesses you will need to prove your case, and the best way to present that evidence to your particular jury.
Picking the jury is an art in and of itself. That art begins with knowing the population in the venue where the case is filed, preparing questions that will help you understand the jurors feelings about the issues you can predict you will have based on population demographics. Knowing how to strike jurors for cause (those who show prejudice towards the issues in your case or prejudice towards the class(es) your client belongs to) is also key to making sure your client gets a fair trial.
For instance, trying a case about overspray of pesticides on a small organic garden in Petaluma, California will be heard very differently by a local Sonoma County jury then the same issue, overspray of pesticides on a small organic farm on the Gulf Coast of Texas by a local Galveston County jury.
A great disservice to a client is an attorney not being honest with a client about their abilities at trial. As an attorney, if you have a weakness, such as picking a jury (voir dire) you owe it to your client to get a jury consultant, or ask for help from your peers. If you are great at cross-examining clients but can’t seem to string direct questions together for direct examination, again, attorneys can and should ask for help.
As a plaintiff’s personal injury trial lawyer I have gained incredible trial skills from watching my peers. I have tried cases with great attorneys and I have tried cases with attorneys who were so nervous they could not be heard within two feet of their own voice. Learning from the best attorneys practicing in the same area you practice in is key. Reading the books published by the most skilled attorneys, attending their practice skills seminars and learning more about your own practice to develop your own skills is key to providing clients the greatest chances of success in the outcome of their case.
When meeting with an attorney about representation of you and your personal injury claims make sure they are actually trial attorneys. If an attorney prepares a case to settle, more often than not the settlement offers will be low. Insurance companies know how good your attorney is, how many cases they have tried, and the results they have been able to obtain. You should have the same information as the insurance companies do and the only way to get it is to ask the attorney.
Ultimately, if the case has to be tried, if the attorney trying the case is not a personal injury trial attorney and the case being tried is a personal injury case, the judgment will suffer as a result of the attorney not preparing the case from its very beginnings as if it were going to trial.