We Have a Trial Date
Many clients want to know how trial works. They’ve seen trials on TV and in movies, and they have a certain idea of what’s going to happen. The truth is – like many things – fiction is more exciting than reality. Trial is a drawn-out process. Rarely do the parties even put their first witness on in the first day of trial. Normally, day 1 is reserved for a process called “Voir Dire,” where a jury is selected, and then maybe opening statements.
During Voir Dire, lawyers from each side are allowed to ask questions of prospective jurors to attempt to determine which jurors would be good for the case. You will also see lawyers on both sides introduce certain themes or concepts that may come up during the case. For instance, if the defendant is a drunk driver who crashed into another vehicle injuring the plaintiff, then you may hear both attorneys talk about drunk driving and personal responsibility with the prospective jurors.
After both sides have had an opportunity to talk to the prospective jurors, each side gets to exercise “challenges” to certain jurors. This will happen outside the earshot of the jury, and you will likely watch this process play out from your seat. Once those challenges have been exercised, some jurors will be excused and some will be seated as members of your jury.
This process may play out over the course of several rounds, where new prospective jurors sit down in the jury box and are asked many of the same questions. This process can take hours, and your job during the process is to sit back and relax. You are also free to take notes on anything you see that you believe might be important.
Once the jury is selected, the Court will either adjourn for the day and instruct the parties what time to appear the following day, conduct some other business with the attorneys (like pre-trial motions and jury charges), or go right into opening statements.
Opening statements are when the lawyers get to tell the jury about the evidence they plan to put on. For instance, we may tell the jury about what the defendant did not wrong, how it hurt you, and how we plan to prove that your injuries are related to the defendant’s conduct. Chances are, we will spend more time talking about the defendant than you. This is not because we don’t think you’re a great client – studies simply show that focusing on the defendant’s fault is more important at the outset.
Once both parties have done their opening statements, we start putting on witnesses. This is the part you have probably seen on TV. We “call” a witness to the stand, we ask questions, and then the defense gets to ask questions of that witness. This process will normally go on for days, where we get to call all of our witnesses and discuss all of our documents with them, and the defendants get their turn to do the same.
Once the evidence presentation is complete, the final step is the closing statement. We each get one more chance to talk to the jury about our case. At this point, we will usually ask the jury to make a specific award to you, in dollars and cents. We’ll reiterate what we believe the defendants did wrong, and how it caused your injuries. We’ll talk about the impacts of the case. We’ll leave the jury with what we feel is most important.
And then we will wait. The jury will deliberate. This process usually takes hours, but it can take days. Eventually, the judge will let us know that the jury has reached a verdict. We will all return to the courtroom, stand, and listen while the jury reads the verdict. At this point, if we have done everything we can do and tried our best case possible, we can hope the jury has understood us and is willing to fully compensate you, our client, for your losses.
Post-Trial Motions and Appeals
After the trial ends, the case is mostly over, but parties will seek relief from the judge on certain post-trial matters. If we won, there is a good chance the defense lawyer will ask the judge to overturn the result. We’ll fight this – all the prep work we have done and all the trial work over the past week has also been geared to dealing with these post-trial motions. If the case is appealed, we’ll talk about that too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
After Judgement or Settlement
If we have agreed to settle your case or a jury has come back and awarded you money, the next steps might seem straightforward. However, before you receive a check, we must assure all costs – doctor bills, attorney fees, court reporters – and other costs are paid. It normally takes 30 days to receive a check from the insurance company, although sometimes things move more quickly. You will also be asked to sign documents that officially end the case in exchange for the sum of money you are receiving. You will likely come to the office twice during this time, once to sign the check and the release, and another time to pick up your check and the settlement statement. The settlement statement will show you where every dollar was spent on your case and give you an exact calculation for attorney fees and amounts due the client.