Sept. 2, 2015 – Fewer cases are going to trial and that means young lawyers are no longer getting the experience they need for future litigation.
“Having fewer lawyers with trial experience is a social problem,” says Jesse Blocher, a shareholder with Habush Habush & Rottier S.C., Waukesha.
Preparing for First Trial: Know Your Evidence to Overcome Nerves
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Your first trial can be a nerve-racking experience. Once you get the opportunity to represent a client at trial, what should you do to prepare?
Start with finding a good mentor who does trial work, says Andrew Wier of Habush Habush & Rottier S.C., Racine. “Everyone in every office knows the partners who do more trials.”
Prior to working at Habush, Wier served five years as an Assistant District Attorney in the Racine County District Attorney’s Office. “When I was in the D.A.’s office, there were people who did more trials than others, and I would gravitate toward them and offer to help them out and do some work on the file.”
“Make yourself invaluable. That way you can also glean from that mentor.”
Once you find the right mentor, prepare your case until you know every detail.
“The biggest key is knowing what evidence comes in and what doesn’t,” says Wier. “That helps you know your case and builds confidence that trial isn’t this unknown, anxiety-ridden thing. It’s something that you know your case, you know your case well, and you know it better than other people in that courtroom.”
He should know. Wier’s first case came just a couple of months out of law school.
“I was 25 years old, and it was a first offense drunk driving jury trial against a local attorney. I prepared, and prepared, and prepared, and I just spent a lot of time on it. I had a big diagram, a big blow up for my closing. I ended up winning the case and it was just a matter of preparation.”
“Once you sit down in that courtroom, and you’ve done the work, and you know your case well, the nerves go away and you just execute,” says Wier.
“You are most nervous when you are preparing. Once it starts, and you’ve done your work, it flows.”
Andrew Wier presented “You Can Do It! Civil Trial Essentials for Young Lawyers” at the State Bar’s 2015 Annual Meeting & Conference, June 24-26.
“It’s a practical problem for young lawyers who are trying to analyze the settlement value of a case, for example, or understand the steps in pretrial process, or to leverage settlements when you don’t have a reputation for going to trial, ” said Blocher, a certified civil trial specialist.
It’s also a client problem, since many won’t be “able to find lawyers that can adequately do their trial work.”
Fewer Trials, Young Lawyers Need Mentoring
In general, fewer civil cases are going to trial. Cost is a factor. In addition, “mediation has become very effective at resolving cases,” Blocher said.
And because fewer cases are going to trial, “there’s less experience generally and settling is easier, less costly, and less scary, and so, many cases end up settling.”
So, what’s a young lawyer to do?
While there are fewer available trial opportunities, aspiring lawyers can still acquire experience through hard work, determination, and learning from veteran attorneys.
“Young lawyers should seek mentoring opportunities and then potentially do some self-learning or self-mentoring,” says Blocher. “Consider prioritizing firms that try cases over firms that maybe pay the best salary” at the start of your career.
Moreover, lawyers should “gravitate towards those lawyers that try cases.” Then make yourself “valuable by doing excellent work product, volunteering to do tasks on litigated files, and maybe learning trial software.” All of this will help to maximize your chances of being a second-chair trial someday, says Blocher.
When it comes to advancing your own learning, Blocher suggests going to seminars, reading trial books, and trying smaller matters. “Some criminal work, perhaps as a prosecutor or defense lawyer, municipal matters, or maybe even [a] friend’s traffic tickets, stuff like that.”
With each experience, you’ll be better positioned to take on a trial.
Jesse Blocher presented “You Can Do It! Civil Trial Essentials for Young Lawyers” at the State Bar’s 2015 Annual Meeting & Conference, June 24-26.
Learn More: Is the Jury Trial Disappearing?
For the past 30 years, jury trials have steadily declined in federal and state courts. Why is this happening, and how does it impact lawyers and the justice system? This article explores the “disappearing jury trial.”
Read “The Disappearing Jury Trial: Implications for the Justice System and Lawyers” – InsideTrack, March 19, 2014.