One great thing about being a personal injury trial lawyer, whether in New York or elsewhere, is that you can keep improving, keep getting better, keep honing your skills, forever.
Recently I have been listening to lectures by some of the best New York trial lawyers, as well as great trial lawyers from other States, about how they try personal injury cases. The most recent one I listened to is Jim Perdue’s “The Art of Story Telling”. Jim is a well-respected Texas trial lawyer. I had read some of his stuff years ago, so this was kind of a refresher course. Jim’s basic premise is that a jury trial is all about story-telling, and the side that tells the best, most credible story, wins. Here are some notes I talked into my smart phone as I listened:
(1) Tell the jury the safety rule the defendant violated, then tell them why the rule is important, then show how defendant broke the rule, then show them the harm defendant’s breaking the rule did to plaintiff.
(2) Use a visual aid board, with two columns, one for “the right way” and one for “the wrong way” of doing whatever it is that defendant did wrong. For example, if a manufacturer improperly tested the product before putting it on the market, put in the “wrong way” column the way he did it, and in the “right way” column the way he should have done it (you can use an expert to explain to the jury the right way).
(3) Defendants don’t have “defenses“, they have excuses. Call them that, excuses. Make an excuse chart to show the jury. In summation, as you go through each excuse, explain why it is not valid, and cross off the excuse with a big red “x”.
(4) Jim likes this metaphor: “This defendant has so many excuses it’s like the crabgrass growing on my backyard. But we have a weed killer called “truth” . . .”. Nice. I’ll try using that one (in the summer!).
(5) Trials are about character. Juries like characters who are rescuers, or who suffer misfortune through no fault of their own, and who struggle back, and they like dependable people. They don’t like greedy or traitorous characters. Try to bring out the positive characteristics of your client and the negative ones of the defendant, where appropriate.
(6) Remember, the defendant is on trial, not plaintiff. So start with what the defendant did wrong. That’s the story you want to tell first.
(7) Make eye contact with each juror – do not talk to the jury, but to jurors.
See ya in court (hopefully at my table, not at defense counsel’s!)
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