What It Takes To Be A Great Trial Lawyer – Part 10

The Ability to Organize

Great trial lawyers spin plates.  Lots of plates.  (Those of you who do not remember "The Ed Sullivan Show" may not appreciate this metaphor. Learn about it here.)  Law firm management requires time. Training of associates and others requires time. Bar associations require time. Families require time. And then those pesky clients ….

Thus, a great trial lawyer uses his or her best efforts to be efficient. This is particularly true in a contingent fee practice (other things being equal the efficient lawyer receives more money for less work) but is also true in a hourly billing practice (great trial lawyers work to maximize efficiency to lower client costs). Part of being an efficient lawyer is the ability to organize or, at a minimum, recognize the lack of strength in this area and thus possess the willingness to allow another to organize for you.

At one level, this means structuring your personal and profession life in such a way so as to fulfill your obligations to yourself, your family, your law practice and your community in a way that enhances efficiency and minimizes stress. Indeed, it begins by taking a personal inventory from time to time to determine whether you are on the track you want to be on and, if not, developing a plan for structuring your life to reflect your values and priorities. This is a non-delegable duty.

At the professional level, however, a great trial lawyer may seek the help of another lawyer, a paralegal, or a secretary to keep the plates spinning. Indeed, many a great trial lawyers become very close to and dependent on someone to make sure that no plates hit the stage.

In a given case, great trial lawyers figure out a way to avoid repeating past work. Memos replace memories. Document productions are bates-stamped so that  one can prove what was sent when and to provide for a ready means of reference in depositions, memos, etc. Documents produced by an opponent are organized in a method appropriate for the case. Files are structured so that a pleading or piece of correspondence can be found at 5:00 on Saturday afternoon when everyone else has gone home. Deadlines are created and monitored. Planning sessions result in to-do lists with stated deadlines, appropriate delegation and a mechanism for follow-up.

Great trial lawyers organize (or allow another to organize) for trial.  A decision is made on exhibits and they are found or prepared and disclosed in a timely fashion.  A plan is developed to get each exhibit admitted into evidence. "Friendly" witnesses are identified, prepared, and disclosed in a timely fashion, and then prepared for trial. "Hostile" witness are identified, disclosed in a timely fashion, and an examination prepared (including impeachment material). Evidentiary issues are identified and appropriate research done. The appropriate substantive law is captured, brought to the attention of the trial judge in an appropriate fashion, and used to create proposed jury instructions.  All of this is matched against a list of the evidence necessary to prove the causes of action in the complaint (or the defenses to it, if you represent the defendant), and it is double-checked.

Logistics are considered. When do the out-of-town witnesses need to be present? Where should they stay? What is the back-up plan? What items do we need to have in the courtroom each day? Do we need technical support? Where are the electric plugs in the courtroom? Do we need a back-up computer? Is there are projector in the courtroom?   Who is the person in charge of it?  What time will court start each day?  At what time will the court break for the day?  Are there other matters on the docket that will interfere with getting a full trial day in every day?  And on and on.

In summary, great trial lawyers know that organization frees the mind to do what great trial lawyers do: prepare and try a lawsuit to the best of their ability. 

Parts 1 through 9 of the series.