As a Federal crime lawyer, I have often asked how trying civil jury cases makes for a better criminal jury trial lawyer. The answer is quite simple: trying jury cases of any kind, if approached the correct way, is always going to increase one’s ability to try cases of any other kind before juries – including criminal jury trials. After all, trials are trials. As a result, a trial lawyer’s skills are constantly being honed and are always evolving. A trial lawyer takes away lessons from every case he or she tries to a jury. Sometimes those lessons are obvious and case-specific. More often than not, however, the lessons taken away from a particular trial are less obvious and more subtle. Instead, the experience of trying one case before a jury builds upon the trial lawyer’s collective body of experience, and his or her never ending quest to be fully oneself in the courtroom, and fully authentic to the jury.
In addition, the underlying preparation and skills that a trial lawyer applies to civil jury trials are the very same ones that he or she applies to criminal jury trials. For example, in preparing to cross-examine witnesses for a civil jury trial, a trial lawyer is called upon to engage in the very same type of pre-trial preparation. This includes, among other things, determining how best to cross-examine a particular witness (if at all) in light of, and consistent with, the trial lawyer’s overall narrative and theme for the case. That pre-trial preparation for cross-examination also includes reviewing all of the statements of any kind that the witness has given prior to trial that bear upon his or her trial testimony. The purpose of that type of preparation in any trial of any kind is to be in a position to use such prior statements to impeach the witness, to gain admissions from the witness, or to otherwise further the trial lawyer’s theme. Perhaps more importantly, cross-examining witnesses during a jury trial is a skill that a trial lawyer is constantly developing. The more live witnesses that a trial lawyer has the opportunity to examine before a jury in any kind of case is necessarily going to advance the cross-examination skills that he brings to bear in all of his other cases.
The moral of the story for any trial lawyer, and more specifically for newer or younger trial lawyers: take the opportunity to take any case to a jury, and apply the same preparation to that trial. This is particularly true in our current legal landscape where jury trials are becoming less and less the norm. Your not going to get better at trying cases by not trying cases.
Written by Michael Leonard
Leonard Trial Lawyers
November 28, 2022