Lead Trial Lawyers Tell the Story

Tell the Trial Story in Pictures

Whether it’s the first or the hundredth trial, the lead trial lawyer must develop the story line, craft the trial strategy and lead the trial team. Leading is different than managing. Managing the team is identifying and assigning tasks necessary to take a case to trial; drafting and filing motions, preparing discovery, scheduling depositions, finding experts, and marshalling evidence to prove or disprove a claim for relief. Managing is done by the second chair who is responsible for keeping the team on task and moving the case forward. The second chair is solution oriented and gets things done. Lead counsel focuses on the client, the story, the trial themes and overall case strategy. All too often these roles are not clearly defined and thus hamper effective trial preparation.

From the early stages of the case, the lead counsel charts the story line, rehearses the trial themes and works on the opening statement. Early trial preparation for the first chair is concentrated on evaluating witnesses and reading key documents, matching source evidence to elements of the claims and defenses. Trial team meetings include segments devoted to trial strategy, legal arguments, scheduling, and evidentiary issues. Successful lead trial attorneys also include a short segment on the story line early in the preparation, working on the components of the opening statement with the trial team. Shortly before the first motion for summary judgment is filed, the graphics consultant joins the trial team meetings. The trial team continues to develop the facts into evidence and work with the experts. The graphic consultant starts the story board for the lead witnesses and the main trial themes in the case. As the claims and defenses charts are prepared, the trial team spends more time listening to the opening statement The lead trial counsel aligns the trial themes with the witnesses, the key documents, and the visuals that will tell the story to the jury.

Because courtrooms have multimedia capabilities, the importance of a cohesive and clear story line is critical to success for a client. In the month before trial, the trial team works through the outlines of the witnesses and coordinates documents that will be used as exhibits. The lead trial attorney starts scripting the opening statement with the graphic consultant and trial technician as early as two weeks before trial. The closing argument, first developed in the early stages of the litigation, is crafted as the jury hears the evidence and testimony presented. At the end of the work day, after preparation for the next day’s testimony, the lead counsel finds that quiet moment to reflect and sketch the key messages of the closing argument.