April 21, 2021

Jury Trials as a Lawyer Mom

Jazmine Preston-O’Neill

Being a working mom is challenging; being a lawyer mom is challenging; but being a lawyer mom while pregnant, breastfeeding, or with young children is THE MOST challenging!! While challenging, it is not impossible and here are my top tips for having a successful trial, regardless of the verdict.

  1. PREPARATION - This theme runs throughout all aspects of trial. Be as prepared as possible. Divide up and delegate trial tasks with your trial partner and litigation support team, prep your witnesses, organize your exhibits, and do your direct and cross exam questions and jury selection charts, as far in advance as possible because the week of trial you will be dealing with trial logistics— audio/visual, coordinating witnesses, and tweaking strategy based on pre-trial rulings.
  2. ALL EYES ON YOU - The jury is watching your every move. During the obvious times like your cross of the star witness, and during those quiet moments like when you’re interacting with your client or sorting exhibits with the clerk. Always be on your best, most courteous behavior because they see everything!!
  3.  TRIAL NOTEBOOK - I started my career at the Miami-Dade Public Defenders Office where you could be pulled into a trial at any moment. So I’ve always had a trial notebook ready, which included voir dire topics, objections, caselaw, procedures for introducing exhibits, impeachment, and refreshing recollection. Add a pencil case for supplies and a few dollars for the vending machine when a snack emergency arises!
  4. COURTSTAFF - Make friends with the clerks, court reporters, and bailiffs—or at minimum be polite, courteous, and respectful. They are the gatekeepers. They can provide you early access to the courtroom so you can set up, get you the jury information early, and advise of the Judge’s rulings and temperament. Plus, they talk! The Judges learn a lot about the attorneys who appear before them by their court staff.
  5. CLOTHING - You could write a dissertation on women’s clothing and everyone’s opinions on it. Whether you are more comfy in a skirt suit or pantsuit, make sure you are polished professional. Choose clothing YOU feel comfortable in, and also pick a good pair of shoes, because you will be on your feet.
  6.  OBSERVATION - A recurring theme in preparation, but if you’re a young attorney, how can you prepare for something you’ve never done before?!? I recommend watching as many trials as you can. Tag along with senior attorneys going to trial, offer to third chair or volunteer. If you are attending a hearing, ask the Judge if s/he has any upcoming trials, and contact the Clerk of Courts, the Courthouse Jury Pool, and/or a Judicial Assistant about future trials.
  7. TECHNOLOGY - Juries expect to be entertained. Jurors, like all people have watched Law & Order, have short attention spans, and are likely to forget a significant amount of information. The benefit of being a young attorney is that we are more comfortable with technology. Get creative with your exhibits, make charts, create compelling demonstrative exhibits, and try to keep the jury’s attention.
  8. EXHIBITS - If possible, stipulate with opposing counsel regarding the admissibility of documents into evidence (this is highly unlikely in criminal cases). Stipulating to admissibility fosters goodwill with OC, and the Judge and courtroom staff will appreciate your efficiency.
  9. JURY INSTRUCTIONS - Incorporate the jury instructions into your closing argument for three reasons. First, your messaging and telling the jury which instructions are most important; second, you get to argue and apply facts and your case’s pertinent points to the instructions; and third, you establish credibility with the jury because the Judge is going to repeat and reinforce the instructions you just gave.
  10. PARENTING - Make arrangements with your spouse or tribe to do the heavy lifting so you can focus on trial. Start by clearing your personal calendar so you don’t have any conflicts during trial. Also, communicate any scheduling issues with the Judge in advance, (including breaks if you are pregnant or pumping). And lastly, you can meal prep the weekend before trial, pre-order dinner to be delivered later in the week, or not deal with dinner at all and delegate the task to someone else!

I hope you’ve found some of these tips useful, and I hope that you advocate for your needs during trial just as much as you advocate for your client. You can read more about my lawyer-mom tips by following me on Instagram, @adventuresoflawyermom.

Thank you, Jazmine

Jazmine Preston-O'Neill

Jazmine Preston-O'Neill

Jazmine Preston-O'Neill

City of Miami’s Office of the City Attorney

Jazmine Preston-O’Neill is an Assistant City Attorney with the City of Miami’s Office of the City Attorney. Jazmine is an experienced litigator and prior to joining the City Attorney’s Office she was a Partner at a civil law litigation firm where she represented insurance carriers in complex litigation matters, coverage disputes, and liability claims.