The best way to learn trial skills is to second chair a trial with a skilled lawyer. The next best way is to watch skilled trial lawyers at work in the courtroom. Students in my semester-long Comprehensive Trial Advocacy course go to court, watch a day of trial and write a report about what they saw and learned. The students select from federal, state or municipal court, and they can choose either a civil or criminal case to watch. This and up-coming blogs share noteworthy and entertaining excerpts from the students’ reports. The names are changed to protect those concerned, but otherwise they are true accounts of the student’s experiences.
Medical Malpractice Suit – Observations
The first report comes from a student who observed the plaintiff’s case in a civil medical malpractice suit. She saw direct and cross-examination of the plaintiff and her husband. The student had these insightful observations about the styles of counsel:
“Immediately I could tell there were two very different styles between the attorneys. The plaintiff’s attorney was far more quiet and soft spoken than the defense. Defense counsel did a great job “owning” the courtroom without ever appearing disrespectful to the judge, jury or opposing counsel. He was able to have a commanding presence without appearing arrogant. This was amplified by the fact that the plaintiff’s attorney seemed almost uncomfortable making objections. At one point, he objected, but began by apologizing. Not only did he seem uncomfortable, but I could see how this may seem like a lack of confidence or trustworthiness to the jury. While I do not doubt his capabilities as an attorney, I could imagine that a jury may interpret a lack of confidence as a lack of trustworthiness. While they may not feel like he is trying to trick or lie to them, the defense counsel was so authoritative and he seemed more believable. He won most objections and seemed like he was the one who knew what he was talking about. It would have been interesting to see more days of trial, or to hear from the jury to see how they perceived the differences between the two attorneys. . .
“Overall, I saw how important it is to be confident without (being) arrogant in the courtroom. Because the jury is learning the case as the attorneys tell it, it seems that being confident in everything you do, from the objections to direct and cross-examination, provides a sense of believability to what you are saying. Almost as if by being confident, you can signal to the jury that you are right—if the attorney seems to believe what they are saying, it seems easier for the jury to believe it too.”
In class, we devote time to discussing the importance of being sincere and projecting that sincerity to the jury. However, nothing can drive home this important lesson like watching, as this student did, a trial lawyer who projects sincerity in the courtroom.