September 2005
Volume 2, Number 1
Table of Contents

The First Trial in a Nutshell: Where Do I Sit? What Do I Say?

By Steven H. Goldberg

Reviewed by Alan A. Fowler

“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 Thompson 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.

Accordingly, The First Trial offers more than mere tips to keep the neophyte litigator from embarrassing himself. Goldberg outlines the importance and the procedures in properly preparing and organizing a case for trial. . From constructing a trial notebook to formulating jury instructions to evaluating a jury pool, Goldberg trains the new litigator in developing his legal theory into a case-in-chief, much like developing “an idea into a play.” Further, Goldberg offers the neophyte guidance for familiarizing herself 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,” for the first time can result in anxiety and awkwardness for new litigators. After profiling the necessary preparation for trial success, Goldberg then offers guidance to alleviate the apprehension common to new trial lawyers. In addition to suggestions of appropriate places to stand and sit, Goldberg 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 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.

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 Section. He can be reached at


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