by: Jeff S. Gibson, Attorney
Life is full of exciting moments…
You, no doubt, had the feeling that you knew you were exactly where you should be– but had no idea what to truly expect. It’s exciting, exhilarating, and a little frightening. That same feeling can almost be overwhelming for a young lawyer stepping into their first trial.
We have all seen the Ben Matlocks, Perry Masons, and for a more current reference, the Alicia Florricks of primetime legal drama. However, hours of Matlock, the Good Wife, or Law and Order serve no purpose in truly representing the inside of a courtroom. Rarely are there true “gotcha” moments and there is almost never a gallery of spectators gasping during testimony. Sure, there are exceptions, like in high profile cases that are now being aired live as part of our 24-hour constant news cycle. But these cases are few and far between.
The vast majority of cases that actually make it to trial would seem mundane to most observers. Law school doesn’t prepare you for trial, and sitting in an office writing briefs serves little purpose in preparing a young lawyer for the ebb and flow of a trial. So, how can you actually learn what it is like to experience a trial and how can you prepare for the grind of trial work? While nothing replaces a trial by fire, there are things you can do to understand the process of a trial.
Every week, our local courthouses have trials. From a half day bench trial in a child custody dispute, to a short criminal trial, or a lengthy trial involving complex litigation, the opportunities to observe our judicial process at work are plenty. On any given day, walk over to the local county courthouse and you can find a list of cases set for trial. For young lawyers, this also gives you an opportunity to interact with the Court staff– an invaluable experience. Pick a trial, any trial, and you are guaranteed to learn something. Whether it is evidentiary arguments, techniques for cross examination, or style of a closing argument, the opportunities to sit and observe some of the best in the legal profession are endless.
For more experience, volunteer within your firm to assist with the next trial set case. Even if it is a case not in your practice group, you will still learn valuable tools that apply in any case. Make sure you check your ego at the door. Do whatever is asked: making copies, writing briefs, or getting coffee, it isn’t what you do as support for the trial, it’s what you learn from experiencing the process first hand.
Once you sit down at counsel’s table for your first trial as lead counsel, you will still experience that rush of excitement and anxiety but you will have a better understanding of what to expect and can manage those feelings better knowing that you are well prepared.