Twas the Night Before Trial
Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan didn’t do as much discovery before setting off for terra incognita as you did on this case. You know it upside down and backwards, and you could recite every salient detail in your sleep. You’re prepared for all form of surprise and sneak attack. You’ve gone through every angle with your client, prepared witnesses, and have anticipated every possible objection. You’ve told your client not to wear that T-shirt with the provocative slogan on it, and you’ve instructed the client that courtroom decorum means not hissing, "He’s a liar" when other people are speaking.
Your trial notebook is the very model of what a trial notebook should be, whether it’s your first trial or your fiftieth. You know what the judge’s file looks like, because you’ve prepared a clone. All of the exhibits have been exchanged, and you’ve prepared ample copies of everything, ready to be marked and submitted. You’ve laminated those cheat sheets to the Rules of Evidence for easy reference.
You’ve researched the judge. If the judge is one you’ve appeared before many times, you already know what will fly and what won’t. If the judge is an unknown entity, you’ve done some background work, just so you can know what he likes and what she doesn’t.
Your job now is to sell your client’s position to the court, telling the story just as if it’s never been told before. The judge hasn’t spent the time living with and learning the file like you and your opponent have. The court’s heard cases just like yours over and over again, but the court hasn’t heard this case. You may have tried cases just like this one many times, but the odds are that you haven’t tried this client’s case before.
It’s deep breathing time. Settle yourself into one of the Zen-ish zones of quiet. Close your eyes, and clear your mind with those meditative nothingness thoughts that somehow always seems to involve centering on your navel. Think back to the first time the client entered your office and sold you on the case. What curves and bends in the road has the client and the problem traversed since then? What was that defining moment when something happened that brought your client to the point at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning when the bailiff sings out "Oyez, oyez?" Distill that roadmap of the case into something that you could easily explain to a 10-year-old. The rest is simply detail.
And now, get a good night’s sleep.
jennifer. j. rose, a lawyer and writer living in Mexico, is secretary of the GP|Solo Division and former editor-in-chief of GPSolo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.