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Six Overlooked Steps to Survive Trial by Fire

Nur Kara


  • Trial preparation requires intense focus and attention to various tasks, such as preparing witnesses, drafting examinations, and reviewing documents.
  • Participating in a trial can provide valuable litigation and life skills training, especially for junior associates.
  • Despite the challenges and pressures, implementing these tips can help you not only survive but also thrive during a trial.
Six Overlooked Steps to Survive Trial by Fire

If you are heading into a “trial by fire” just weeks before its start, you will find yourself frantic and struggling to pause other matters to focus all your attention on the case at hand. Preparing expert and fact witnesses, drafting direct and cross examinations, compiling deposition designations and exhibit lists, briefing on a variety of issues, and committing to memory technical studies—these will be among your long list of to-dos. As a “Big Law” associate, going to trial nowadays is a rarity, but if you do get to experience the madness, you will certainly view a case’s trajectory and tactics differently going forward. Will a jury understand the science and our theories? Are our experts objectively qualified and commanding communicators? Can we front our flawed documents? Where are there gaps and patterns among the productions? Can demonstratives better convey this story? If available, especially to junior associates, trial can provide vital litigation and life-skills training.  

Although it is challenging to prepare a substantive work product for each day of trial, it is harder still to learn the tips and tricks that will keep you sane, help you be successful, and keep your stamina strong. Consider the following six overlooked steps to survival.

  1. Be Available. Demonstrate your willingness to assist wherever possible. Trial requires all hands-on-deck. Whether building binders or prepping a witness, no task is too small regardless of seniority. Everything you do will have value, and a favorable verdict reflects upon each team member’s efforts. Trial can also help you find “your people” at work, as you will spend long hours with and get to know your colleagues more personally. Volunteering early on and having a can-do, will-do attitude are good ways to get integrated.
  2. Assign Distinct Roles. Lead counsel can ensure that everyone is assigned to a distinct role that they will carry throughout trial. Whether specific attorneys handle witness prep, brief drafting, or bench arguments for each day of trial, early organization can avoid knowledge gaps and duplicative work at crunch time.
  3. Speak Up at the Right Times. No matter how junior you are, you will become the go-to or subject-matter expert for something at trial. You may not be included in settlement discussions or direct client communications and you may not argue in court, but you will undoubtedly know something about the facts, precedent, or status of work product that you can speak to when confusions arise. These are crucial moments to shine.
  4. Appreciate Your Support Staff. In a pinch, you may need to take on a dual role, but if you have sufficient support staff, befriend and respect them. They are away from their families and working around the clock just as you are. Additionally, they often know more than the attorneys about the ins-and-outs of administrative and jurisdictional procedures. You will be surprised by how much not-so-magically gets done by your diligent paralegals and trial logistics team.
  5. Schedule Breaks and Rewards. Trial may take you to an unfamiliar town. Your days will feel significantly longer and your surroundings significantly smaller between primarily going from the “war room” at the hotel to court. Clear your mind with a short walk around the hotel or 20 minutes at the hotel gym when you are not actively working or meeting with your team. On “lighter” days, suggest grabbing a coffee or eating out as a team. And if you are feeling short on rest, kindly excuse yourself for brief mindless me-time or meditation. If you communicate well regarding your tasks and deadlines, everyone will understand when you need to disappear for a breather.  
  6. Connect With Your Family and Friends. Although it’s hard when you’re in the working headspace, remember that life outside of your trial bubble goes on. Find a few minutes to text or call your significant other, family, and friends. Get videos of your kids. It will calm you to know that they are doing well and perhaps give you a much-needed boost to tackle rough days ahead.

Nerves can be high going into your first trial and being away from home for weeks on-end but, with these six tips, you will survive and thrive.