GPSolo Magazine - April/May 2005
The First Trial in a Nutshell: Where Do I Sit? What Do I Say?
By Steven H. Goldberg
“May it please the court. . . .” Well, may it? One of the most common and well-known criticisms of legal education is its failure to teach students what they really need to know. Fortunately, Steven H. Goldberg fills in some of law school’s blanks in The First Trial in a Nutshell: Where Do I Sit? What Do I Say? published by Thomson West. Goldberg provides the new litigator with the perspective and resources to present a case with confidence and skill, rather than insecurity over formal courtroom protocol.
In The First Trial, Goldberg, a former litigator turned law professor, likens the trial to theater and the attorney to the stage director. Such an approach can be eye opening for the law-trained reader. Once adopted, this perspective calms the nerves and helps the new litigator see the trial from the jury’s viewpoint. Goldberg reiterates this helpful perspective, analogizing each trial component to an aspect of a play.
First, Goldberg instructs the new trial lawyer in the nuts and bolts of courtroom decorum, such as how to address the jury and where to stand during witness examination. Notably, not only does the author share common courtroom etiquette, but he also offers a foolproof method for learning local customs: Go to the courthouse and find out. Goldberg hopes that by illuminating the new litigator to common courtroom protocol, the neophyte will be able to focus on the substance of the case at hand, rather than on courtroom manners.
Next, Goldberg presents the procedure for properly preparing and organizing a case for trial. From constructing a trial notebook to formulating jury instructions to evaluating a jury pool, Goldberg instructs the new litigator in turning a legal theory into a case-in-chief, much like developing an idea into a play. Further, Goldberg offers the neophyte guidance for become familiar with stylistic and procedural nuances that vary among jurisdictions and courthouses, such as the use of and resources for demonstrative evidence.
Hearing the bailiff call, “All rise,” can result in anxiety and awkwardness for new litigators. Goldberg offers considerable guidance to alleviate the courtroom apprehension common to new trial lawyers. He presents a variety of trial-tested techniques, including conducting voir dire, examining witnesses, and presenting a closing argument. Although the book is a limited primer on trial advocacy skills, the new litigator would nonetheless find Goldberg’s trial techniques a good complement to his briefing on courtroom formalities.
The First Trial offers more than mere tips to keep neophyte litigators from embarrassment. Goldberg arms new litigators with the resources and frame of mind to conduct their first journeys into trial with poise and proficiency—so that they may please the court and the jury, too.
Note: West Group is a corporate sponsor of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division; this article appears in connection with the Section’s sponsorship agreement with West Group. Neither the ABA nor ABA sections endorse non-ABA products or services, and this review should not be so construed.
Alan A. Fowler attends Mercer University School of Law in Macon, Georgia, and is the Law Student Division Liaison to the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division of the ABA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.