Solo Newsletter

Volume 10, no. 3

How to Sleep Well Before Trial

By jennifer j. rose

he client was dressed for success. And she was a success—a successful streetwalker. Time after time, you warned her to tone down her wardrobe for her upcoming court appearance, but she just didn’t seem to listen. So you decided that you’d dress like a hooker, too, just so this client wouldn’t look too out of place in front of a judge. The day arrives when you meet this client at the courthouse—only to find her dressed like a lawyer.

* * *

You know you’re in big trouble when you consider asking the court to bind and gag your own client like Bobby Seale during the Chicago Eight trial.

* * *

How many times have you heard your client utter, “You wanna know what the real story is?” as you walk into the courtroom? “Oh, you mean to tell me now that we’ve been operating under an entirely different version of the truth lo’ these many months? . . . . Uh, gee, Your Honor, may I have a few minutes with my client before we begin?

* * *

Many clients simply don’t understand what “discovery is closed” means. Or that the courtroom isn’t meant for surprise revelations of the truth. Some clients think their lawyers can use some extra, unsolicited help during trial—help that is appreciated as much by counsel as a surgeon whose patient offers a hand with the scalpel. Lawyers are familiar with trial procedure, and we blithely make the assumption that our clients are, too. Trial is a novel and intimidating experience to most clients whose images have been shaped by television and movie courtrooms.

Just as important as choreographing trial strategy and plotting cross-examination is client preparation. Set down ground rules for your client ahead of time. About a week before trial, review trial protocol with the client with a pretrial pep talk.

1) Explain trial procedure so that the client understands the order of witnesses, what kinds of questions to expect, how to respond to cross-examination, and how to treat opposing counsel and the judge.

2) Let the client know that you can handle anything, but you don’t really need surprises coming from your own table. Give the client a firm deadline for revealing those last-minute disclosures to you.

3) Advise the client on what to wear to trial. And what to leave at home.

4) Tell the client that he or she will have a legal pad and pen to jot down notes to you—and that you can’t listen to the client’s whispers and pay attention to the witness at the same time.

5) Suggest that hissing, “that’s a lie,” and making faces are really inappropriate behavior when the client hears unfavorable testimony.

6) Explain the time frame again. Many clients expect that the court will rule within minutes after the last word is uttered.

jennifer j. rose is editor-in-chief of GPSolo magazine and can be reached at jenniferrose@abanet.org.

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