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The court issued the notice of trial setting months ago. The settlement conference has come and gone, and your client has uttered those magic words so dear to the heart and bank account of every lawyer: “I’d rather spend the money on you than give those weasels a dime!” So there it is, in big red letters on your calendar: “TRIAL!” GET READY As a solo, preparing for a trial is a lot of work — especially because you will have to do most of it yourself. The legal work is essentially the same wherever you practice, but the administrative aspects of trial prep are very different for a solo. At a big firm, you can issue peremptory orders and your faithful, hardworking, underpaid underlings will make it all happen, while you ponder the legal minutiae of tricky evidentiary issues from the comfort of your oversized office. In the gritty real world of the solo, however, you make your own copies. MANAGING THE PAPER Even in the electronic age, trials involve a lot of paper. A document-intensive case will have many, many exhibits. You’ll need several sets of them for yourself, the court and opposing counsel. You’ll also have lots of notes, outlines, witness examinations and the like. It takes a lot of time and effort to get it all together. If you don’t have support staff, consider hiring a temp to help you subdue the paper and get it all into nice neat binders and boxes. The trial will be much less stressful if you’re not frantically hunting for documents you need, while the judge taps her pen impatiently, and the jury silently concludes that you’re — at best — disorganized. LOGISTICS Now that it’s all in nice neat boxes, you have to get it all there. Bring everything to court — documents, law books, anything you think you might need. You’ll feel a lot better knowing you have that tangentially relevant document there — instead of back in your office — if you need it. Bring extra supplies, such as pens, pads and highlighters, too. Think about how you’re going to do this. Again, you can’t just call down to the file room and get a couple of “the guys” to do it all for you. And the morning of the trial is a bad time to discover that the boxes won’t fit on your little folding luggage cart, or that when the cart is fully loaded, it’s too heavy to move. Before my most recent trial, the last piece of trial prep I did was take my car to the shop to replace a tire with a slow leak. I was sure that if I didn’t, by operation of Murphy’s Law, it would blow on the way to court. The devil is always in the details, so pay attention to them. MOCK TRIALS If you have the time and the resources, mock trials are a great way to prepare for trial. When I was working on my first trial at my former firm, the partner recruited three bored secretaries and the client he’d just finished having lunch with to listen to my opening argument. They made many helpful suggestions concerning presentation and demeanor which I never would have realized on my own. Another very useful aspect of mock trials is practice examinations. Run all the way through your direct examination of the key witnesses at least once. Witnesses get nervous and can fumble the easiest, most obvious questions. If you’re expecting opposing counsel to conduct a grueling cross-examination of the client, ask that sharp litigator down the hall to play the role for you. Having another attorney act as mock cross-examiner is much more effective than conducting the cross yourself. The client knows you, is comfortable with you, isn’t afraid of you, and won’t take the exercise as seriously. A stranger can throw the client off balance and give him a good preview of what it’s like to be in the hot seat. Like every other aspect of trial prep, mock trials are easier to stage at a big law firm. As a solo, you probably don’t have that many people hanging around the office to cast in the roles of cross-examiner and jurors. Recruit your friends. Promise them lunch. It’ll be worth it. THE REST OF YOUR PRACTICE Finally, you must assume you will be spending all of your time on the trial. You’ll be in court all day and preparing for the next day all night. You’ll be prepping witnesses over dinner, drafting new motions in limine at midnight and practicing your closing argument in the bathroom mirror. But what’s going to happen to all of your other cases while you’re occupied with the trial? Plan ahead. As soon as it becomes apparent that the case really is going to trial, tell your clients and opposing counsel on your other matters that you’ll be out of pocket for the duration of the case. Try to get any necessary work (i.e., anything with a deadline that can’t be postponed) on your other cases done before you get deep into trial prep. Where it’s possible to reschedule deadlines, try to avoid scheduling anything for the week after the trial is over. You’re going to be tired, and the last thing you’ll want is to come back to a huge pile of urgent work. Finally, line up a backup person to cover for you. Hopefully no emergencies will happen while you’re handling the trial, but if something does come up, that backup person will be invaluable. THE BIG DAY As litigators, trials are what we live for. Nervousness is natural and inevitable, but if you don’t get a big charge out of walking into court on the morning of the trial, you’re probably in the wrong line of work. You’re prepped. You’re ready. It’s showtime! Kimberly Fanady is a solo practitioner in San Francisco. She can be reached at [email protected] Read Ms. Fanady’s bio.

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