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The #1 Reason Top Trial Teams Keep Winning

The very best trial teams in the world have only one real secret for success. Like many of life's foundational principles, it's painfully simple to describe, but it’s painfully hard to execute. The winning secret of the very best trial teams is, simply, preparation. Of course, I'm not talking about the everyday kind of trial preparation that goes on a few weeks or a month before trial. I'm talking about a level of trial preparation that is so best-in-class that it separates America's extraordinary trial teams from merely great trial teams. Perhaps 1% of all trial teams function the way I'm about to describe. After three decades of supporting, coaching, and learning from the top 1%, I promise nothing else is more correlated with winning than preparation— not good facts, good law, a friendly judge, a smiling jury -- nothing. Just as a world record-holding athletes prepare at a level that far exceeds what professional athletes do, the same is true for world-class trial lawyers. In the last 30 years, I've seen behaviors like:

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10 Timely Tips For Trial Preparation

Working at A2L, I have the distinct pleasure of watching many of the world's best trial lawyers prepare for trial. Most start months or years in advance. Those lawyers engage A2L early to do theme testing with a focus group or to organize and run a mock trial. Each of these events requires the creation of litigation graphics and usually assistance in developing an opening statement. Having watched so many great trial lawyers prepare for 25 years, I have been able to observe patterns in how they prepare. Below I share ten chronologically ordered tips (plus accompanying resources) based on these observations. If you're less than one year from trial, I hope these tips are still helpful, and I hope you will get in touch with me. More than one year from trial: There is no better time to do theme testing then when discovery is still open. Read more in How Early-Stage Focus Groups Can Help Your Trial Preparation and as you start this journey, always remember that Great Trial Lawyers Behave Differently. One year before trial: Plan your first of two mock trials. There are dozens of good reasons to conduct a mock trial, but forcing yourself to prepare early may be the very best one. Read my one-year trial planning guide and read A2L's Opening Statement Toolkit. Also, it is a good time to read A2L's Jury Consulting and Mock Trial Handbook. Nine months before trial: Begin or continue development of your litigation graphics. If you conducted a mock trial, you already have a good start. Read How Long Before Trial Should I Begin Preparing My Trial Graphics?, 10 Reasons The Litigation Graphics You DO NOT Use Are Important and The 13 Biggest Reasons to Avoid Last-Minute Trial Preparation. Six months before trial: Refine your opening statement story and the visuals that will support it. Make sure your experts have their visuals being worked on by your litigation graphics team - not the in-house people at the expert's firm. Watch Persuasive Storytelling for Trial Lawyers and read Storytelling for Litigators. To help develop your experts, have them read this three-part series on How to Be a Great Expert Witness. Three months before trial: Conduct opening statement practice sessions with your trial team, litigation consultants, and your client. Read The First Version of Your Story Is NOT Your Best, 3 Ways to Force Yourself to Practice Your Trial Presentation, and Practice, Say Jury Consultants, is Why Movie Lawyers Perform So Well.

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I'm very fortunate to have a lot of friends, and I often end up telling the same story more than once in order to catch people up on what’s going on in my business and personal lives. Sometimes it’s just out of friendship. Sometimes I want to hear my friend’s opinion. Sometimes I want to persuade. Since I’m also in the business of professional storytelling -- or at least in the business of helping others tell their stories in the most professional and persuasive way possible -- I pay attention to how I tell a story. I especially notice how the story evolves as I tell it for the third, fifth, or 20th time.  Because it ALWAYS evolves. Sometimes the story changes because I have new insights. Sometimes it changes because of how it seemed to affect the last person I told it to. Sometimes it changes because of direct feedback or insight from my friend or adviser. May 2019 was an unusual month, in which a variety of major things happened personally and professionally. In fact, so many things happened at once that I needed to lean hard on my various advisers for good advice and wisdom. After a month that involved a great many consultations, everything got better, and I noticed something about that process. With each new retelling of events, I noticed how I automatically refined my story to more easily inform my listeners. I automatically changed the order of how I presented facts so that they flowed better. I found that I had injected appropriate humor. My stories seemed to be effective. They even caused some people to take some action in parts of their personal and professional lives just because they heard them (aka persuasion). Hopefully, you see where I am going with this when it comes to our work with trial lawyers. It's NEVER your first story that sings. Refining your story requires constant interaction and dialogue with others. That's why I will never understand the trial lawyer who writes their opening statement the night before trial or the trial lawyer who refuses to do a mock trial. In 25 years of doing this work, I have learned without qualification that the very best trial lawyers want their answers questioned. They do the mock. They conduct practice sessions. They invite critiques. They are the best precisely because they do this. Practice and preparation are what separates the good from the great -- not the law school they went to, not the firm they work for, and not even the innate ability to connect with a jury. Other A2L articles about storytelling, visual storytelling, persuasion, trial prep, mock trials and practice include: Great Trial Lawyers Behave Differently 50 Characteristics of Top Trial Teams 3 Ways to Force Yourself to Practice Your Trial Presentation 9 Things In-House Counsel Say About Outside Litigation Counsel Dan Pink, Pixar, and Storytelling for the Courtroom Practice is a Crucial Piece of the Storytelling Puzzle Three Top Trial Lawyers Tell Us Why Storytelling Is So Important The 13 Biggest Reasons to Avoid Last-Minute Trial Preparation Your Coach Is Not Better Than You – in the Courtroom or Elsewhere What Steve Jobs Can Teach Trial Lawyers About Trial Preparation 6 Ways to Use a Mock Trial to Develop Your Opening Statement 21 Reasons a Litigator Is Your Best Litigation Graphics Consultant Practice, Say Jury Consultants, is Why Movie Lawyers Perform So Well 7 Things In-House Misses When Litigation Consultants are Underutilized The 5 Very Best Reasons to Conduct a Mock Trial FREE DOWNLOAD: Storytelling for Persuasion - 144-page complimentary book 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said The Very Best Use of Coaches in Trial Preparation Why Do I Need A Mock Trial If There Is No Real Voir Dire? 3 Ways to Force Yourself to Practice Your Trial Presentation 7 Questions You Must Ask Your Mock Jury About Litigation Graphics 11 Problems with Mock Trials and How to Avoid Them 12 Astute Tips for Meaningful Mock Trials Trending: Mock Trial Testing of Litigation Graphics AND Arguments 10 Suggestions for Conducting Mock Bench Trial Consulting Exercises Mock Trials: Do They Work? Are They Valuable? 11 Surprising Areas Where We Are Using Mock Exercises and Testing $300 Million of Litigation Consulting and Storytelling Validation Conflict check: Be the first to retain A2L

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I’m far from alone in asserting that Steve Jobs was an inspiration to many entrepreneurs and CEOs of all ages. For many of us, his contrarian thought process, rigorous attention to detail, and spectacular showmanship formed a model for how to innovate, run a business, and find new customers.  I tracked Jobs’ career during my college and law school days and went so far as to email him a couple of times to thank him for the inspiration that he provided to me. Over the years, his 2007 speech introducing the iPhone served as a model for me. It showed me how to make a presentation that is both informative and inviting. I’ve written about that here. Later, when I was preparing to deliver a commencement speech, I used his 2005 Stanford commencement talk as an example. Steve Jobs’ presentations were admired by many. But not as many people have looked behind his presentations to understand that level of preparation that was involved in each presentation. An article earlier this year from Inc. magazine said it very well: Every product launch was brilliantly performed. Every move, demo, image and slide was in sync and beautifully choreographed. If I sound like I'm describing a Broadway show, you're right. A Steve Jobs presentation had more in common with an award-winning theatrical performance than a typical product launch. Apple still uses the time-tested formula including the final secret ingredient: Jobs rehearsed relentlessly. Carmine Gallo, the author of this article, pointed out that Jobs’ presentations looked effortless precisely because he put so much effort into them. These ideas are totally in keeping with the conclusions that I have reached in three decades of observing trial lawyers. I’ve heard far too many first-chair trial lawyers claim that the reason they didn’t practice their opening statement relentlessly was because it wouldn’t appear spontaneous if they did. Quite the contrary; the openings that I have heard that appeared the most spontaneous were precisely the ones that were the most thoroughly rehearsed. Apparently, Steve Jobs shared that approach. His grueling hours of practice became legendary in the tech industry. The Inc. article, in analyzing the desirable amount of practice time, concluded that the ideal is the 20-20 rule, which means that for a 20-minute presentation, one should go through the whole thing at least 20 times. This is consistent with the conclusions that I’ve reached about trial practice. We like to use a rule that a 60-minute opening should be practiced for at least 30 hours. We all want to look relaxed, confident and conversational in making our presentations. That is a good instinct because that style is in fact persuasive, but the way to get there is not with last-minute cramming, an opening statement practiced privately in a hotel room with no one listening, or an off-the-cuff talk relying on a few bullet points. The best openings I’ve ever seen are the result of countless hours of practice — often done in one-to-one sessions with an A2L litigation consultant. As is the case with any presenter, practice is what separates good trial lawyers from great trial lawyers. You might say, great trial lawyers just “think different” when it comes to practice. Other free A2L articles about trial preparations, delivering great presentations, practice, and developing opening statements include: $300 Million of Litigation Consulting and Storytelling Validation Conflict check: Be the first to retain A2L 3 Ways to Force Yourself to Practice Your Trial Presentation Dan Pink, Pixar, and Storytelling for the Courtroom Practice is a Crucial Piece of the Storytelling Puzzle Three Top Trial Lawyers Tell Us Why Storytelling Is So Important Winning BEFORE Trial - Part 3 - Storytelling for Lawyers Free A2L Consulting Webinar: Persuasive Storytelling for Litigation Storytelling at Trial Works - But Whom Should the Story Be About? Free 144 page A2L E-book download: Storytelling for Litigators Free A2L webinar - Storytelling as a Persuasion tool The Magic of a 30:1 Presentation Preparation Ratio The Very Best Use of Coaches in Trial Preparation 12 Ways to SUCCESSFULLY Combine Oral and Visual Presentations 7 Ways to Draft a Better Opening Statement In Trial Presentation - A Camel is a Horse Designed by Committee The 12 Worst PowerPoint Mistakes Litigators Make 12 Reasons Bullet Points Are Bad (in Trial Graphics or Anywhere)

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Rapport, or lack of it, between a first-chair attorney, who is in charge of a trial presentation, and his or her trial tech can make or break a case. When this rapport exists, the result is akin to a well-choreographed ballet, a perfectly orchestrated symphony performance, or a beautifully planned newscast. Everything happens on time and on cue. There are no pregnant pauses, and visuals feel as if they support what is being said by the lawyer, rather than being used as a reminder to tell the lawyer what to say. When this relationship is not perfect, the trial presentation can feel like watching a streaming online movie that is constantly pausing to be buffered. When a presentation has not been sufficiently practiced between a first-chair attorney and a trial tech, you will see missed timing, flustered attorneys and a general unease that does not have to be there. Trial techs, of course, are the people whose job is to ensure that content flows in a smooth, pre-scripted fashion, making the trial lawyer look like a polished presenter. The trial tech controls the electronic presentation in court, brings in the evidence at just the right time, and plays audio and video of depositions in a way that helps the judge and jury appreciate and understand the case. A good trial tech, as I have said before, frees the lawyers and the litigation consultants to marshal the witnesses and the evidence to tell a compelling story. A great trial tech produces that seamless result. Some litigation graphics consultants can have only a limited interaction with the first-chair lawyer, and the trial can still be a success. That cannot be true of the relationship between the top lawyer and the trial tech. That must be outstanding. How can you make sure it becomes outstanding and stays that way?

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We at A2L constantly have the pleasure of working with trial teams composed of some of the nation’s best trial attorneys. The teams we work with can be composed of dozens of attorneys, but ordinarily there are three to 12 members. And sometimes, as can be true of any group that is assembled for a particular purpose, there is one member of the group who, without good reason, makes everyone’s life harder. The very presence of this person can have a dulling effect on the trial team’s morale and effectiveness. Any trial team can be seen as an elite unit, like an army platoon, that has a well-defined mission that everyone shares. That common goal of winning the case is usually enough to unite the trial team in a single-minded purpose and to enable everyone to do their best work possible in pursuit of that goal. This type of team unity correlates very well with ultimate success at trial. But when one team member has a difficult personality – for example, proves to be more interested in his or her personal achievements than in the success of the team as a whole – all bets are off. In our article, 10 Criteria that Define Great Trial Teams, we outlined traits necessary for trial team success. A single difficult personality on a trial team can obstruct success in any of the key areas.  

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Great Trial Lawyers Behave Differently

I’ve written often about trial preparation -- and yet it seems like it’s never enough. I have a unique view of the litigation industry since I work with the absolute top-performing trial lawyers and with many other attorneys who aspire to be like them. What distinguishes the high performers from the mere aspirants is primarily their rigorous and intense preparation. Long-time readers of this blog might remember some of the articles we’ve written to try to help good trial attorneys become great trial lawyers. Here are some of them: 50 Characteristics of Top Trial Teams 7 Habits of Great Trial Teams The 13 Biggest Reasons to Avoid Last-Minute Trial Preparation How Early-Stage Focus Groups Can Help Your Trial Preparation 25 Things In-House Counsel Should Insist Outside Litigation Counsel Do Sample One-Year Trial Prep Calendar for High Stakes Cases How Long Before Trial Should I Begin Preparing My Trial Graphics? How to Get Great Results From a Good Lawyer and my absolute favorite in this trial preparation best-practices genre:  10 Criteria that Define Great Trial Teams If I had to summarize these articles, it would be simply that great trial attorneys prepare much earlier and much harder and with much more openness, communication and curiosity than merely good trial lawyers. They are comfortable with technology. They understand how to develop a courtroom presence. They practice relentlessly. I see it all the time.

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Law360 is a top legal industry publisher owned by Lexis-Nexis. Its daily newsletters are a must-read for trial lawyers involved in big-ticket litigation. This interview, Trial Consultants Q&A: A2L Consulting's Ken Lopez, was originally published on April 28, 2017, and is reprinted here with permission. Links to A2L articles and resources have been added by A2L in this reprint. Q: What aspect of trial consulting do you and your firm specialize in? What is unique about your firm, compared to other trial consulting firms? A: Founded in 1995, our firm is a leading national litigation consulting firm that helps trial lawyers and other advocates more reliably win complex and high-dollar disputes. We are typically in trial year-round and deliver world-class client-pleasing results in three key service areas: jury research and consulting, litigation graphics consulting, and trial technology consulting. We have recently been voted #1 in each of these categories by major legal publications. The composition of our leadership distinguishes it from other trial consulting and litigation consultant firms. Unlike firms whose origins are rooted in the trial technology business, the engineering business or the marketing/public relations fields, our team is composed of experts in the persuasion sciences. These include former litigators from top law firms, attorney-artists and social science Ph.Ds with decades of experience working with judges and juries. We primarily serve AmLaw 100 law firms and their clients. However, the firm regularly works with boutique law firms and in-house departments. It counts amongst its clients nearly all top law firms and a large portion of the Fortune 500. Most people find A2L through its litigation and persuasion-focused blog, The Litigation Consulting Report. It has nearly 10,000 subscribers and was named one of the top ten blogs in litigation by the American Bar Association. Q: What was the most interesting or memorable case that you worked on? A: The average case at A2L Consulting is a business dispute between global companies with $100 million at stake where we provide jury consulting, a mock trial, litigation graphics, and courtroom hot-seat trial technology support. One of our most memorable cases was entirely — not average. Through a top trial lawyer, we were hired to work on behalf of a surviving family member of the 1996 crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Everglades. This was not a plane that exploded or quickly crashed. Instead, oxygen containers in the cargo area helped fuel a fire that caused smoke to fill the plane. Then, the oxygen-fueled fire burned through the passenger cabin floor from below. After some time, controls on the plane were destroyed by the fire. Then, the plane flipped and dove into the Everglades below. No one survived. It took a long time for the tragedy to unfold and the passengers had awareness of what was happened. We know this because the plane was equipped with recording devices in both the cockpit and the passenger cabin. The recording is confidential, but none of us who worked on this case will ever forget what we heard on that recording. To help the jury visualize the experience the passengers had, we could have created a 3-D animation to show what the experience inside of the cabin was like. Instead, we synced that chilling audio with an animation we created that helped tell the tragic story. Once the animation was admitted into evidence, the case quickly settled. Q: Which stage of the trial process is the most challenging, and why? A: While we support all phases of litigation from prefiling to appeal, our firm most often focuses its consulting efforts on the opening statement. Indeed, we speak and write about opening statements often. Perhaps second only to jury selection, the opening statement can make or break an entire case. It provides the framework and narrative upon which the judge or jury will hear the evidence. For many, consciously or subconsciously, the decision about the outcome of the case will be made during opening statement. Because the opening statement is so critical, the best trial lawyers expend enormous amounts of effort preparing for openings. I’ve seen some trial lawyers practice their opening more than 100 times over the course of a year. Not surprisingly, these trial lawyers tend to win their cases. In every type of litigation consulting we provide, the opening statement is a central focus. When we conduct a mock trial, the attorneys present their openings to mock jurors or mock judges. When our senior litigation consultants work with top trial lawyers to refine their trial presentation, we ask them to present their openings as part of that process. When we design a PowerPoint presentation for opening, we ask our clients to do run-throughs of openings. When we introduce one of our trial technicians/hot-seat operators to a trial team, we ask the first chair to practice opening statements so they develop a rapport with the trial tech. Indeed, sometimes, we are asked to draft an opening statement as part of our litigation consulting effort. Opening statements are the most challenging part of the trial process because they should be. Cases are regularly won and lost because of them. Q: How has trial consulting evolved over time? What major differences are there between the industry when you started and the industry now? A: Our firm, now a national litigation consulting firm with jury consulting, litigation graphics consulting and trial technology consulting practices all voted #1 by the legal industry, was started as Animators at Law, an animation and litigation graphics firm for trial lawyers focused on persuasion. Back in the mid-1990s when we started our firm, the idea of using demonstrative evidence/litigation graphics during a trial was new. Today, no serious trial lawyer would go to trial in big-ticket litigation without litigation graphics and nearly all would hire a litigation graphics consulting firm like ours. When we started our firm, PowerPoint did not exist. Most litigation graphics were printed trial boards. Today, trial boards are used as unique emphasis tools that supplement a PowerPoint trial presentation. The practice of jury research has changed too. It has evolved from a guru-dominated practice where gut instinct drove many decisions. Today, there is more scientific rigor among top jury research firms. They let the data speak for itself and supplement that data with advice based on experience. Of course, the trial technology practice has radically changed. In the 1990s, it barely existed. Now, the complexity of cases demands that an experienced trial technician/hot-seat operator run the technology, show the trial presentation and be ready to pull up evidence on a moment’s notice. Q: What are some of the biggest challenges when working with attorneys and their clients? A: One of my colleagues likes to say, “they call it the practice of law, but nobody is practicing.” I agree wholeheartedly. If I could change one thing about the way trial lawyers prepare for trial, it would be the way they practice. The correlation between open practice in front of peers and winning cases is unmistakable. Half of the time, trial lawyers practice extensively and seek feedback from litigation consultants and colleagues. These lawyers tend to win their cases. When we see a trial lawyer who wants to privately prepare their trial presentation on the eve of trial, we worry. It’s not that this approach can’t work. It often does. Instead, we simply recognize that the more a trial team openly practices, the more often that trial team wins.

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