If you are trying your case alone or taking the laboring oar, you should be prepared for every stage of the trial. When preparing for jury selection, write out your questions (even if you are not required to submit them to the court in advance) and practice them. Jury selection is your first opportunity to interact with your jury do not waste it. You should take charge of the courtroom and ask your questions. You also must be prepared to listen to the answers and, if necessary, follow up with the prospective jurors.
Having someone assist you with this process, making notes and observing the panel, is extremely helpful, but if you do not have that luxury, prepare to take your time and do a thorough job of questioning these individuals who hold the fate of your client's case in their capable, but potentially biased, hands. Also, do not be afraid to inject some personality into the process. You want the jury to have a pleasant first impression of you in addition to thinking that you are very prepared and competent. (As an aside, if you are like me and have had your personality unfavorably compared to the wet mop dripping in the corner, you will need to prepare to turn on a little extra charm.)
Preparing for the various stages of the trial that will follow is no less important. When you are preparing your opening statement, your questions for your witnesses, your cross-examinations and your closing argument, you must always remember your case and your audience. Preparing a theme for the case and structuring everything to serve that theme is a useful method of crafting statements and questions. Ask yourself, "How does the answer to this question advance my theme?" If the question does not help your theme, why should you ask it?
When you are preparing your questions for your witnesses, anticipate all the possible objections and make sure you have a response ready. It is unlikely that you will win all objections, but at least you will be prepared to argue. Regarding objections, whether you are successful or not, either in responding to an objection or raising one, simply proceed accordingly. What I mean is, do not throw your hands up like you just hit the game-winning shot or stop and pout like someone stole your milk money. You must be a zealous advocate but remember that if you make too much of an unfavorable ruling, you run the risk of waking up that sleeping juror and having that be the only thing he remembers about that particular witness' testimony.
It cannot be overstated: Do not forget the jury during the meat of the trial. They are still there watching, listening (hopefully) and evaluating. They will be evaluating the evidence and the advocacy. You will benefit by speaking in words everyone can understand and trying to avoid the dreaded "sounding like a lawyer." I could spend another 1,500 words on this topic, but I will sum it up with this sentiment: No witness has ever "first had occasion to observe the plaintiff"; what a witness did was "saw Mr. Smith for the first time." Advocacy is about presenting your client's case in a clear and concise manner, aggressively and vigorously, all while remaining calm and respectful to the court and your opponent. Simple, right? When you are given your first trial assignment, prepare and then prepare some more, and relax, it isn't like this is your client's only day in court ... oh, wait, it is. So prepare, fight hard, keep your chin up and win.
Jonathan B. Acklen is an attorney with the law firm of Cohen & Feeley. He fights daily for victims of negligence in the areas of automobile collisions, medical malpractice, products liability and other practice areas. He also represents clients in the mass torts arena, including assisting the firm in its representation of a large number of DePuy ASR plaintiffs.