Posts Tagged ‘trial notebook’

Impressing the Judge

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Chancery Court Judge Larry Primeaux has a top ten list of tips for attorneys wanting to  impress a judge while in court. The paralegal can play an important role in most of them. Let’s take today’s post as an example:

TOP TEN TIPS TO IMPRESS A CHANCELLOR AT TRIAL: #8

Know the law and have it handy.

Know the law that applies in your case. It’s never a bad idea to check on what the appellate courts have said most recently about whatever it is you are getting ready for trial. Even if you are an experienced, battle-scarred litigator, you can get blindsided by a rank, newly-minted lawyer if you don’t keep up. Complacency is stupidity in the guise of arrogance; it is intentional ignorance that often proves embarrasing, or worse.

Read the COA decisions every Tuesday afternoon and Supreme Court decisions every Thursday afternoon. When you run across something pertinent to a pending case, print out the decision, highlight the language you need, and stick the decision in your file. That way you’ll have it handy when you need it at trial. If you are too lazy to make time to read the decisions, subscribe to either the Ole Miss or MC law school briefing service and receive summaries via email after each handdown.

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If you know that your case will involve an issue that is out of the ordinary, have your authorities copied and ready to give the judge. Don’t just read off a few case cites; have copies of the decisions to hand the judge. Some judges require you to give a copy to opposing counsel. When you have authorities at hand, it not only aids the judge in making the right decision, it also communicates to the judge in not-so-subtle fashion that you know you are on sound ground and have confidence that the law supports your position. Contrast that with the lawyer who, when asked what authority supports his position, replies “Well, I know there’s a case out there on point, judge, and if you give me about 10 days, I might be able to find it.”

Have your trial factors printed out and handy, with case cites. Use them as checklists to question your witnesses.

Implementing this tip will be no problem for the attorney with a good paralegal. In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional I include an entire chapter on preparing a trial notebook organized around the elements of a cause of action. Each element is supported by the evidence available to prove the facts that meet the requirements of the element. For item of evidence and each witness’s testimony the possible objections are anticipated and the relevant law cited with copies of the pertinent cases included. All element is cross-referenced to the exhibits and testimony; each exhibit cross-referenced to the elements it supports and the witness who will provide the foundation its admission into evidence. With the proper assistance from a professional paralegal, any attorney ought to be able to impress the judge and the jury with their professionalism. Even more important, that attorney is much more likely to win the case!

The really fortunate attorney will be able to bring the paralegal to court. As noted previously the good legal team can work as smoothly as a dance team both in the office and in the courtroom. If you both understand the case and have a well-organized notebook, objections to evidence (for example) are anticipated. The opposing attorney objects. Your attorney quickly explains the basis for admission of the evidence. The court asks for supporting law.  The attorney (trying not to smile to broadly) reaching out her hand and you place into it three copies of the case the judge needs to see – one for the judge, one for opposing counsel, and one for your attorney. Smooth as wet butter!

Improving the Dog and Pony Show

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional I state that when it comes to a trial “the best dog and pony show wins” meaning that often it is the best prepared case that wins, not necessarily the best case. The best prepared case is not simply the case with the most information, but the case in which that information is organized and set for presentation to the jury in a way the jury can understand it. Today’s post “Show Me the Money!” from Judge Primeaux on his blog illustrates this point as it applies to any factfinder, including those wearing a black robe:

As a judge I can tell you it’s hard to capture every detail in my trial notes. Sometimes the witness just speaks so fast  that I stay three sentences behind, trying to catch up, and just can’t get it all. Sometimes the significance isn’t clear until much later in the trial or even when the judge is writing the opinion, and then it’s too late.  Sometimes a verbose witness will bury the critical info under an avalanche of mostly meaningless words.

Next time you have an equitable distribution case, why don’t you sit down with your client during your trial preparation and work up a spreadsheet that shows how she wants the marital estate divided. 

The post includes other suggestions and the questions necessary to lay a foundation. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the role of this kind of preparation is for a successful trial and the importance of the paralegal’s role is in preparing a well-done trial notebook. For more on this see Judge Primeaux’s blog and Chapter 7 of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional.