Category Archives: Miscellaneous

TRIAL ASSISTANT INSTRUCTIONS

When I was a young lawyer in the small town of Mount Vernon, Washington I would sometimes fly to places for legal work as the quickest way to get there. Just outside town there was a narrow dirt air strip right along a standing field of corn on one side and a drainage canal on the other. The local pilot who flew the farms for spraying the fields had his planes there and one was a small two seater he would fly me in. He had been flying for over 30 years and had flown hundreds of hours. Never the less, every time I flew with him, he would get out a clipboard with a checklist and walk around the plane with it. He would methodically go through it out loud even though I was the only one with him. He would even open the window on his side before we started out and shout out “Prop On!” before firing up the engine.  The only thing close to us would be cows crazing a long ways away. I was struck how much importance he put on a checklist for some thing he had done hundreds of times. I decided that in my law practice I would create a checklist for every thing we did. Every time we did something new I made a checklist. I modified them as we used them, but they were given to all the paralegals and we followed them together. Here is an example of an early checklist I created when I was really trying simple cases alone but always with a paralegal with me. It will give you an idea of the concept. Of course, this is really simplistic but it gives the general idea. TRIAL PARALEGAL CHECKLIST  Arrangements need to be made to transfer the client files and exhibits needed for trial to the courtroom. The computer, projector and electronics are also to be set up for trial. The general outline for  responsibilities during trial follow: MORNING 

  1. ARRIVE AT COURT AT SAME TIME LAWYERS ARRIVE
  2. ASK ATTORNEY FOR INSTRUCTIONS WHEN YOU ARRIVE
  3. REVIEW WITNESS LIST FOR WITNESSES TO BE CALLED
  4. MAKE SURE WITNESSES ARE THERE & READY TO TESTIFY

WITNESS MATERIALS

  1. HAVE ALL OF THE WITNESS MATERIAL READY FOR THE ATTORNEY. THIS INCLUDES DEPOSITIONS, EXHIBITS AND MATERIALS.
  2. BE PREPARED TO GIVE THE LAWYER THE MATERIALS DURING THE EXAMINATION
  3. HAVE BOXES & TRIAL MATERIALS ORGANIZED FOR EASY LOCATION  AS NEEDED.

DURING TRIAL

  1. BE OBSERVANT FOR ANYTHING NEEDED BY LAWYERS
  2. BE RESPONSIBLE FOR WITNESSES WAITING TO TESTIFY
  3. NOTE OBSERVATIONS REGARDING JUDGE, JURY, WITNESSES & COURT IN GENERAL. DON’T PASS NOTES TO ATTORNEY

MORNING RECESS

  1. CHECK WITH LAWYER FOR PROJECTS
  2. SHARE ANY OBSERVATIONS OR MESSAGES
  3. REPORT ON WITNESS STATUS

NOON RECESS

  1. BE PREPARED TO GET FOOD FOR LAWYERS OR WITNESSES IF ASKED.
  2. REVIEW OBSERVATIONS WITH LAWYER & SHADOW JUROR COMMENTS.
  3. ADVISE REGARDING STATUS OF NEXT WITNESS
  4. REVIEW ANY MESSAGES FROM OFFICE OR OTHER NOTES
  5. ASK LAWYER IF ANYTHING IS NEEDED
  6. CHECK ON WITNESSES FOR AFTERNOON

AFTERNOON RECESS

  1. ASK IF LAWYERS NEED ANYTHING
  2. SHARE OBSERVATIONS OR MESSAGES
  3. REPORT ON WITNESS STATUS – ENSURE WITNESSES READY
  4. ADVISE SCHEDULING PARALEGAL OF TRIAL STATUS

END OF DAY

  1.  REVIEW WITNESS STATUS AND SCHEDULE FOR NEXT DAY
  2. FIND OUT WHAT PROJECTS LAWYER HAS FOR YOU
  3. ADVISE WITNESS PARALEGAL OF STATUS.
  4. HAVE WITNESS MATERIAL AVAILABLE FOR LAWER
  5. GIVE REPORT FROM SHADOW JURORS AND OBSERVATIONS
  6. GET INSTRUCTIONS FOR FOLLOWING DAY.

THE SPENCE TRIAL COLLEGE

In 1994 Gerry Spence asked me to participate in teaching at a new trial college he was creating for lawyers to teach them the right way to  be plaintiff trial lawyers. It was to be a non profit college and we would volunteer our  time  and transportation. I had known him for some time and quickly agreed even thought I had no real idea of what he had in mind.

The other people, in addition to Gerry and I,  invited for this first college were: Judge Joseph Cardine, Judy Clark, Bobby Lee Cook, Phil Corboy, Morris Dees, Alan Dershowitz, Vince Fuller,  Nancy Hollander, Garvin Isaacs, Joe Jamail, Rikki Klieman, Al Krieger, William Kuntsler, Judge Miles Lord, Terry McCarthy, Charles Ogletree, Steve  Rench,  Judge Robert Rose, Jim Shellow, Kim Taylor-Thompson, John Teirney, Bill Trine and Howard Weitzman.

His ad for the college said: “These  great lawyers will be at Gerry Spence’s ranch in Wyoming in August to help you become a winning trial lawyer for  people.”

He said in  this advertisement: ” We believe every trial lawyer has the potential to become an effective and winning advocate for justice. We  are committed to help people’s lawyers become winning lawyers who will ethically and  nobly champion the cause of the injured, the forgotten and the damned.”

From that original group Bill Trine has continued to  participate to date. Since that  invitation 19 years ago I’ve been privileged to have been invited back each year to teach, although I had to miss  two years, as well  and it has benefited me far more than it ever benefited the lawyers who attended.

Originally there was only a July college session lasting thirty days, but in recent years there  are two sessions a year in July and September,  plus many other shorter sessions. I wasn’t able to go in July this  year as planned due to a  trial  so, instead,  I leave tomorrow for  the September session. I’ll fly from Seattle to Salt Lake and take a commuter to Jackson Hole. From there I’ll drive my rental car two and half to three hours to Dubois, WY, population 971. After something to eat there I’ll continue driving another ten miles until I turn on an unpaved  gravel road another ten miles to the Thunderhead Ranch where the main structure used for  teaching and living quarters  for the attendees is the huge two story barn moved from miles away to this location by Gerry’s son Kent. Other outbuildings  are also used as classrooms.

We’ll  start early and work late including sessions after  dinner. The group is broken into units with graduates of the College acting as teaching  leaders.

There is  no TV, no WiFi and  cell phone  use  requires driving some distance  away up a mountain so I’ll not be  posting something this  week  while at  the ranch. I’ll give you a report when I get back.

 

THE NATIONAL TRIAL LAWYERS HALL OF FAME

I have been a trial lawyer for over fifty years with a law practice focused on those who have suffered damages or harm due to the fault of someone else. I’m usually content with what I have done for others during this last half century of being a lawyer until I go to an affair like the one I just attended. Last year I was inducted into the National Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame along with Phil Corboy, Chicago; J.B. Spence, Florida; Russ  Herman, New Orleans and Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, Texas – all great and nationally known plaintiff trial lawyers. Past inductees include Edward Bennett Williams, Melvin Belli and Gerry Spence. It was a humbling experience  to be included with these lawyers when I was made a member of the Hall of Fame last year

This year, in Las Vegas, Joseph Cotchett, California; Fred David Gray, Alabama; Elaine R. Jones,  Virginia and Sheldon Schlesinger, Florida were inducted. Cotchett was the lead trial lawyer on behalf of senior citizens against Lincoln Savings & Loan, represented 8,600 Filipino children abandoned when the Island Naval base closed and has a life long history  of pro bono legal work. Gray has dedicated his life to eliminating racial discrimination in Alabama. He represented  Rosa Parks in he bus boycott and was the lawyer for Martin Luther King. He hs been involved in every major racial discrimination matter in his home state and performed a life time of professional pro bono work. Elaine R. Jones has led the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational fund and was the first black woman to defend death row inmates. She  has spent her life doing pro bono legal work in the civil rights area of law. Lita and I have known Shelly Schlesinger and his family for  over thirty years. In addition to his record setting jury verdicts he had dedicated his work and his money to civic and charitable causes in Florida.

As I sat on the stage with these people while their accomplishments were given I felt out of place with people who had dedicated so much of their life to free legal work because they knew it was the right thing to do. When we hear about trial lawyers who have dishonored their profession, think of these lawyers who have contributed so much for others.