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10 Criteria that Define Great Trial Teams

by Ken Lopez Founder/CEO A2L Consulting Several months ago, I wrote about the 50 Characteristics of Top Trial Teams. Based on those 50 characteristics, we have created a trial team assessment tool. Although we've only just begun to collect the data, my hypothesis is that the quality of trial preparation, which this tool attempts to measure, is highly correlated with success at trial. In my experience, only a small minority of trial teams rigorously prepare for trial in a way that would earn them a high score on this tool. In most cases, budgets and/or firm culture simply don’t permit the level of preparation that I see in the highest performing trial teams. In our first effort to quantify what makes a good trial team, our beta version trial team assessment tool offers 10 criteria to measure performance. We selected these 10 points from among the 50 criteria, based on the collective experience of A2L's top litigation graphics consultant, our top jury consultant and on my experience. That's more than 75 years of accumulated litigation experience from work in thousands of cases. We assign a maximum of 10 points to each criterion, and so far, we have observed trial teams ranging from a low of 33 to a high of 76. Losses tend to occur more often with low scoring teams, but the data are still quite fragmentary. Here are the 10 criteria that we use to define great trial teams: Communication: They communicate in an orderly, consistent manner so that everyone knows at all times what is going on. They’re systematic in how they work and communicate with their outside consultants. Timely Preparation: They’re not frantic. They don't wait until the last minute to prepare fact and expert witnesses. They construct their key trial narratives early.

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by Alex Brown Director of Operations A2L Consulting My oldest daughter is a volunteer for our local congressman. At dinner last night she heard some quotes from a current presidential candidate and proceeded to excoriate them. Usually I toss in the old adage “If you can’t say something nice, just don’t say anything.” This time I didn’t and instead talked to her about our 16th president. Many of you might know the story of Lincoln’s Letter to General Meade. On July 4, 1863, Lincoln realized that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was trapped between the Potomac River and a fast-moving Union Army behind him, and sent an order to General George Meade to move in for the kill and end the war. Instead, Meade held a war council and got multiple points of view. While he was doing so, Lee was able to escape over the Potomac with his soldiers. Lincoln was furious. He wrote a letter calling out Meade for his stupidity and lack of fortitude and questioning his ability to command. We will never know Meade’s reaction because Lincoln never sent the message. Instead, he thought about things from Meade’s perspective, and the fact that they had just finished a bloody battle in Gettysburg and how that might have affected Meade’s willingness to engage at a random location with so many variables. Lincoln also realized that dressing down his general would do nothing to help morale and would not change what had already happened. Lincoln gave us the perfect example of how to be a communicator. This is a lesson that we should reinforce in everything we do. We should be aware of these lessons when we are dealing with witnesses, experts, jury, judge and even support personnel and litigation consultants. You are always being watched, and people will always judge you on how you act with those you meet. What are the keys to communication?

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by Ken Lopez Founder/CEO A2L Consulting Anyone who puts together a team to represent a client in a high-stakes piece of litigation is engaging in an act of leadership. To be successful, such a litigation team needs to blend the skills of an outside set of trial lawyers from a law firm, large or small; in-house corporate counsel; the leadership of the client company, which will want to keep close tabs on high-stakes litigation; a wide variety of paralegals, assistants and other key nonlawyer personnel; and, in all probability, a trial consulting company such as A2L. Today we are releasing the fourth edition of a new and free eBook on leadership for lawyers that can be downloaded here. I hope that it will be useful to legal industry leaders, whether running a trial team, a practice group, or an entire law firm.

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50 Characteristics of Top Trial Teams

by Ken Lopez Founder/CEO A2L Consulting After the more than 20 years that we have spent in the litigation consulting business, we don't hear very many questions that we’ve never heard before. However, this week I did hear one, and the story is worth sharing because it goes to the heart of how a truly great litigator performs. The question I heard was, “What can we do better as a trial team on the next engagement?” Consider how remarkable this is. Here was a litigator from a large law firm sincerely trying to improve the performance of his team and himself. I was deeply impressed, as this was the first time I've had someone ask that question after an engagement. It's a very sensible question, of course. A2L's team has worked with thousands of litigation teams from the very best law firms in the world. I have watched many litigators perform near-magic in the courtroom, and I have seen teams fail miserably. There are patterns that lead to success and patterns that lead to failure. In the spirit of the question that this litigator asked me, I started thinking about the traits of the world’s most effective trial teams. Here are 50 of them culled from my experience and that of my colleagues Dr. Laurie Kuslansky and Tony Klapper. Practice is by far the single most obvious indicator of a trial team's success. The great litigators draft their openings months or years in advance of trial and practice them dozens or hundreds of times. See, Practice, Say Jury Consultants, is Why Movie Lawyers Perform So Well Preparation. Great trial teams start preparing long before trial, and they don't ask the client’s permission to do so. Their attitude is, “If you work with a team like ours, it means you want to win and we know how to win and we're going to get that done, whatever it takes.” I think they are right. There are only a handful of law firms that I have observed that have this sense of preparation embedded in their litigation culture. See, The 13 Biggest Reasons to Avoid Last-Minute Trial Preparation Great litigation teams want their answers questioned. Great litigators are confident. They are so confident that they open themselves up to rigorous scrutiny in their approach to trial. Through a whole host of methods, they invite criticism, suggestions, fresh pairs of eyes, lay people’s opinions, experts’ opinions, and they use all of these voices to perform at their best. See, Accepting Litigation Consulting is the New Hurdle for Litigators They lead, but they can be led too. Great litigators avoid dominating all discussions. They intentionally let others lead them and be seen as leaders. Download the Leadership for Lawyers eBook They just look comfortable in front of a jury. Confidence equals persuasiviness and humans are born with an expert ability to detect it.  See, A Harvard Psychologist Writes About Presenting to Win They build narratives early. They know how important a narrative is to winning a case. They have also learned from experience that the earlier this is done, the better. A well-constructed narrative can inform everything from briefing to discovery to witness preparation. Download The Opening Statement Toolkit

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by Tony Klapper Managing Director, Litigation Consulting A2L Consulting I was reading the Washington Post’s Business section on Sunday morning, and a front-page article about Sean Parker caught my eye. Parker, dubbed “Silicon Valley’s Bad-Boy Genius,” co-founded Napster and was the first president of Facebook. He was also played by Justin Timberlake in “The Social Network.” Far from a routine business profile, this article provides several fascinating lessons concerning the importance of creative collaboration. Apparently tired of catering to the entertainment needs of millennials, Parker recently launched the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. Although it was notable that Parker invested $250 million to support groundbreaking research into eradicating a disease that kills millions each year, even more important is his model of creating a “sandbox” for scientific research. At press time, six premier medical research institutions—Stanford, Hopkins, MD Anderson, UPenn, UCSF, and UCLA—had signed up to be part of the consortium that Parker is creating to fight cancer. The premise behind the effort is that working together in the sandbox is far more effective than working alone. That truism is not one that is always followed.

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by Ken Lopez Founder/CEO A2L Consulting In 20 years as a litigation consultant, I’ve personally seen hundreds of litigators try cases, and I have heard the observations of my colleagues on other cases, probably amounting to thousands of cases in all. So I’m in a pretty good position to evaluate what works and what doesn’t work, based on a non-scientific study of trials and trial teams.

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by Ken Lopez Founder/CEO A2L Consulting Since first being exposed to the group psychology work of Wilfred Bion 15 years ago, I've been completely fascinated by it. I think his theories perfectly explain the behavior of every group that I've ever encountered. From boards that I sit on to groups on reality TV shows, they all behave in the same predictable ways, especially when placed under pressure. I think the author Robert Young captures the essence of the group dynamics model Bion describes when he says, "My experience was that, sure enough, from time to time each group would fall into a species of madness and start arguing and forming factions over matters which, on later reflection, would not seem to justify so much passion and distress. More often than not, the row would end up in a split or in the departure or expulsion of one or more scapegoats." I've written about Bion's work before in 5 Signs of a Dysfunctional Trial Team (and What to Do About It) and When a Good Trial Team Goes Bad: The Psychology of Team Anxiety. These articles and Young's article from the Human Nature Review provide a good introduction to Bion's group dynamics model. Here are the key aspects of Bion’s group dynamics model. In Bion's framework, groups are always functioning in one of two modes. Either they are working or they are operating dysfunctionally (he called this later state the Basic Assumption State). Both groups rely on a leader, and the members interact with the leader in predictable ways. In the working group, the group gets things done. They understand the meaning of the task at hand and cooperate to get it done without unnecessary emotional distress. In the dysfunctional group, much less gets done, and the group moves through a progressively worse set of dysfunctional behaviors triggered by some anxiety or pressure. Initially, the dysfunctional group will attempt to look to the leader to make the anxiety go away by treating the leader as a type of wise superhuman. If that fails to make the anxiety go away, two or more members of the group will begin to conspire to replace the leader or form a new group, If that does not work, fighting and/or departures will begin. All of this is subconscious, but once you understand the patterns, you'll see them everywhere. Knowing where you are in the process of dysfunction can be one of the most valuable tools a manager, leader or consultant can have. I bet you can guess another group that behaves in predictable ways that I have an interest in — that's right, juries. And they certainly behave in ways that solidly fit Bion's group dynamics model. If you understand how this works, you can use this knowledge during jury selection. Our team has seen thousands of juries deliberate. That's unusual since jury deliberations are secret. Of course, when we see them deliberating, often four juries at a time, it is behind the one-way mirrors of mock trial facilities. The behavior we see from jury to jury is remarkably consistent. We've detailed some of these behaviors in the article 10 Things Every Mock Juror Ever Has Said and the webinar and the podcast 12 Things Every Mock Juror Ever Has Said. Furthermore, an article by A2L's Managing Director of Jury Consulting, Dr. Laurie Kuslansky, called 10 Ways to Spot Your Jury Foreman is a useful background piece for those interested in this area of study.

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A Mixed Litigation Industry Outlook for 2015

 

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