September 01, 2014

First-Time Lawyer: Top 10 First Trial Mistakes

Kelley Barnett

For litigators, your first trial—like many of life’s other firsts—is both exciting and frightening. But despite the countless hours of preparation, many litigators make some common mistakes in this very important “first.” Here are some traps for novice litigators hoping to ace their first trial.

Don’t Forget to “Know Thy Judge”: If you don’t want to end up in the judicial crosshairs, learn the judge’s rules. Are attorneys permitted to ask questions during voir dire? Are any subjects off limits during voir dire? How does the judge handle peremptory and cause challenges? Does the judge impose time limits on voir dire, opening statement, or closing argument? Are you permitted to state the bases for evidentiary objections? Read your judge’s standing orders. Check the local rules. Ask other lawyers. Watch your judge in another trial. Ask questions at a pretrial, or simply call chambers and ask. Most judges will appreciate your interest in learning their practices.

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