Trials can be a good thing; particularly for those in the legal business.
But, have you ever considered the various definitions of the word “trial” and how the word may apply specifically to a litigation paralegal?
According to Merriam-Webster, the word has four common meanings:
- The formal examination before a competent tribunal of the matter in issue in a civil or criminal cause in order to determine such issue;
- The action or process of trying or putting to the proof;
- A tryout or experiment to test quality, value, or usefulness; and
- A test of faith, patience, or stamina through subjection to suffering or temptation; broadly: a source of vexation or annoyance.
Over the years, (through much trial and error- no pun intended) I’ve discovered five (5) critical elements on how paralegals can manage trials and come out a champion regardless of the verdict.
1. Expect the Unexpected
Plan, plan and plan some more- you can never be too prepared; whatever you can do ahead of the trial to make things easier within the courtroom- do it!
Here are a few suggestions:
Begin to organize your case from the inception with trial in mind. Develop a plan for handling of client materials, document productions, witness information, etc. that considers how will you access and use this information at trial. The more organized you are on the front end, the easier it will be to prepare for trial and be efficient in the courtroom.
I highly recommend Bates labeling document productions and using a document management system that allows for efficient and quick access to your global data. When disputes arise in the courtroom, these systems allow you to quickly confirm if an exhibit being offered was produced previously by simply referencing the Bates number.
Utilization of checklists. The older I get, the more prone I am to forgetting- checklists are a great way to keep on track and be prepared. I have a checklist of tasks that need to be completed for trial, i.e., obtain jury pool list, assemble original deposition transcripts, etc. to a checklist of trial supplies. I learned the hard way not to forget to bring 8x10 envelopes to court in case an exhibit needs to be sealed or a few boxes of tissues- as there always seems to be tears in every trial.
Creation of master documents.
Maintain a master list of all key players to include witnesses that spell out contact details, the best method to reach them, and dates they may be unavailable to testify at trial.
Maintain a master calendar that visually provides a timeline of estimates for trial and when we may be able to call certain witnesses to testify. You would be amazed how easy it is to forget court holidays and court closures and not plan accordingly.
Pre-mark exhibits. When possible, mark your exhibits creating both an electronic version and a paper version (with copies) to be distributed within the courtroom. An index prepared in advance with “proposed” exhibits can make tracking of exhibits in the courtroom a breeze. Plus, the clerks will thank you if you can provide them an electronic version of all exhibits and can assist with double checking the status of admitted exhibits. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to have all your exhibits in chronological order.
Investigate the courthouse and the surrounding area especially if you are from out-of-town. If you can’t do a site-visit in advance, call the clerks and ask questions. Research the courthouse layout, security protocols, parking, nearby restaurants, vendors and whether lunch and supplies can be delivered directly to the courtroom. The last thing you want is to run into security problems, have no idea where you can make a copy, have no internet access or not have a means to eat lunch in the allotted time!
2. Know Your Role
Communication is key! Don’t assume you know your role, have a discussion in advance with your attorney and/or trial team to hash out roles and responsibilities. You need to know what is expected of you and what tasks will be your responsibility. This will reduce duplication of efforts or worse a task not being performed at all because everyone thinks someone else is doing it (learned that one the hard way with tracking of exhibits!)
3. Technology is Your Friend
Don’t be afraid of technology. If you are not already using technology in the courtroom, please stop right now and do some research! Technology can be your friend from the presentation of exhibits, real-time transcripts in the courtroom to electronically tracking exhibits.
4. Have the Right Attitude
I love this quote by Pat Riley, “If you have a positive attitude and constantly strive to give your best effort, eventually you will overcome your immediate problems and find you are ready for greater challenges.” Having the right attitude is everything, and composure is key specifically when nothing seems to be going right, or you are dealing with difficult personalities! Cool heads always prevail. I’ve also found that being pleasant, friendly and respectful to those around you be it the opposing side or the courthouse personnel goes a long way!
5. Client First
Never lose sight of your client and their goals. Be mindful of their likes and dislikes. Being aware of their pet-peeves can be your greatest ally. Something as simple as a treat with lunch can help alleviate a bad morning in court for those with a sweet-tooth or just being respectful in your language can win the day! You are a representative of the client, and your actions and decisions should demonstrate your allegiance; remember who you represent and always give your best!
No matter the case, no matter the courtroom, no matter your level of experience — if you implement some of the tips above, I guarantee you too can manage trials like a champion!
Senior Paralegal, Lincoln Derr PLLC
Noelle Leblanc is a North Carolina State Board Certified Paralegal working at the law firm of Lincoln Derr as a senior litigation paralegal utilizing diverse skills to provide support to the firm’s litigators and to assure exceptional client service is achieved. Noelle has been with the firm from its inception and has a total of over twenty (20) years of legal experience. Prior to entering the legal field, she served honorably in the United States Air Force and then went on to obtain an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Paralegal Technology and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice, magna cum laude. Inducted into both the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.