Show Instead of Tell
A picture is worth a thousand words. Studies abound that show a retention rate of 80 percent if we both see and hear the information as opposed to just 10 to 15 percent if we just hear it. Ask for a pretrial to request permission to use visuals on opening. A useful phrase for convincing the judge to let you show the jury a timeline, diagram, or photo is, “Your honor, I could describe the intersection to the jury, but if you let me show them this diagram, my opening will be a lot shorter.”
Prepare Your Jury Instructions
This should already have been done. You cannot adequately prepare for trial unless you know the instructions the judge is going to give. Come prepared with enough copies for everyone. Come prepared with alternate instructions that you can present to the court immediately rather than having to wait for them to be retyped. We love those attorneys who have their instructions ready to go.
Consider Time Limits
When I say to consider time limits, I mean both self-imposed limits and court-imposed limits. Everyone needs an editor. Study after study shows that the number one complaint that jurors make about attorneys is that we are too repetitious. We want to plow the same ground again and again. Trust me, with 12 attentive jurors you can be assured that most, if not all, will get the point on the first pass.
Regarding court-imposed time limits, there are horror stories of judges issuing draconian orders without regard to the complexity of the issues or the number of witnesses. Stories include a lawyer or witness being mid-sentence when the judge leaves the bench, or witnesses running—yes, running—to and from the witness box to save time.
I am not urging those types of time limits. What I am urging are reasonable limits, given the complexity of the case, paired with flexibility from a judge exercising discretion. Being able to tell the judge and the jury that the case will be concluded by a certain date may help in getting your case to the head of the line for trial.
It will also likely improve the delivery of your case to the jury. A judge once observed: “Once the time limit was imposed, she moved along briskly and finished two hours early. Even more importantly, her case became clearer because she had to talk about the forest rather than each tree, or even each leaf.”