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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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The Top 10 Litigation Articles of 2018

It's my eighth year writing an end-of-year top-10 style article. That feels pretty great because in that time, we have published more than 600 articles and A2L's Litigation Consulting Report blog has been visited one million times. Wow, right?

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A couple of years ago, I was involved in running a genetics conference focused on using genetics as a defense tactic in civil cases, much in the way that DNA evidence is used in criminal cases. I've been working with experts in this field ever since. A few months back, I wrote an article about the clever use by plaintiffs of litigation graphics and genetics in the baby powder (talc) cases (see Some Lessons for Defendants From the Talc Liability Trials), including a $4 billion verdict against a major talc manufacturer. When I write about various types of cases, I often hear from lawyers who handle the types of cases I write about. On my post on the use of genetics evidence in the talc litigation, how many talc defense lawyers do you think I heard from? If you guessed zero, you'd be exactly right. And that's a problem. Not ready to accept that this is a problem for defendants? Then I will ask whether the plaintiffs’ talc bar was similarly unresponsive. As you can probably guess from the way I posed the question, the answer is no. Out of discretion, I won't say exactly who or how many responded, but it was more than zero. Even though there is more to gain for the defense bar from understanding and leveraging these critical tools, it’s the plaintiffs’ lawyers who are most active in the field, striving to improve their approach. From the defense bar — crickets. And that's the problem I'm seeing in the way some of these talc cases are being defended. Defense counsel appear to be playing defense – and completely ignoring the key point that the best defense in litigation is a good offense. These verdicts are having an impact on the companies involved. Last Friday, on December 14, 2018, shares of Johnson & Johnson fell 10 percent and were set to have their largest percentage drop in more than 16 years, after Reuters reported that the company knew for decades that there was some asbestos in its baby powder. Yesterday, December 18, 2018, Johnson and Johnson ran the full page ad seen here in an attempt to manage this growing crisis. For trial lawyers and litigation consulting firms like ours, these asbestos allegations are not new or surprising. It's what plaintiff's have alleged recently and have used to prevail in these cases. The surprising thing in these cases is defense counsel's unnecessarily passive approach. When products are accused of causing harm, defense lawyers often choose one of the following defense strategies: Assert the harm was caused by something else but we don’t know what (the “idiopathic” defense) Assert the harm was caused by something else and we know exactly what. Typically, most defendants have chosen the ‘we don’t know what other thing caused it’ strategy because it avoids giving up the favorable allocation of the burden of proof and assuming the very specific (and often difficult) burden of proving an alternative cause – much as criminal defendants take advantage of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. Not surprisingly, this argument generally falls flat. Recently, the plaintiffs’ bar won a multi-billion-dollar verdict by asserting that there is asbestos in talc and that it causes mesothelioma. This is highly improbable for several logical reasons — but jurors tend to follow emotion first and logic second when deliberating. If asbestos is present in baby powder at all, it would be in such small amounts that one could not reasonably connect mesothelioma to it. If defense counsel asserts (as they have been) that the mesothelioma was caused by some other identified source of asbestos, and not by talc, that leaves jurors without the necessary tools to argue for a defense verdict during deliberations. So, what if defense counsel could instead prove that the plaintiff’s mesothelioma was caused by something other than asbestos in baby powder? Something identifiable, measurable, and specific. Using modern genetics, this is now possible. And it is a major sea change.

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At A2L, we are either conducting or actively planning a mock trial 365 days a year. As you probably know, mock trials are a tool that is very often used by serious trial teams involved in large trials to help uncover the ideal strategy to win a case. In a typical mock trial that we conduct, over 40 jurors will be recruited in the trial venue through a rigorous screening process. We even incorporate expected voir dire questions into the process. Based on individual verdicts and backgrounds, mock jurors are carefully evaluated to create three or four panels of 10 to 12 mock jurors. “Clopenings,” combined argumentative opening/closing statements, are presented for both sides of the case, litigation graphics are used to support these statements, and videotaped witness testimony may be included as part of the presentation. Typically, real-time data collection methods using an Audience Response System (“ARS”) will be used, similar to the approve vs. disapprove line graphs shown on the news during election seasons. Deliberations are conducted. A focus discussion following deliberations is facilitated by our jury consulting and litigation consulting team members. All proceedings are typically observed through one-way mirrors or via closed-circuit TV, as shown in the included image. Watching the deliberations is shocking for most trial lawyers. Without the constraints of the law or internal consistency, jurors’ responses can seem inconsistent, irrational, inexplicable and thus, frightening and random. They are not. Jurors rarely understand the cases as much as hoped, and they follow predictable behavior patterns (see 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said). While their rationale may not match the lawyers’, there is a rationale to those willing to understand it from the jurors’ perspective. Finally, data are collected from the jurors, the results from the deliberations are tallied, and an oral and written report is presented to the trial team. This report includes specific tactics, both rhetorical and visual, that should be used at trial. We have written and taught about best practices for mock trials extensively. Some of those articles and webinars include: The 5 Very Best Reasons to Conduct a Mock Trial 6 Good Reasons to Conduct a Mock Trial 6 Ways to Use a Mock Trial to Develop Your Opening Statement 5 Ways That a Mock Trial Informs and Shapes Voir Dire Questions 12 Astute Tips for Meaningful Mock Trials 11 Problems with Mock Trials and How to Avoid Them 7 Questions You Must Ask Your Mock Jury About Litigation Graphics 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said How Early-Stage Focus Groups Can Help Your Trial Preparation Webinar: 12 Things Every Mock Juror Ever Has Said - Watch Anytime Together, these resources provide an excellent manual for conducting a mock trial for an upcoming case. However, they don’t deeply address a trial team behavior I’ve seen show up in just about every mock trial our firm has conducted: The lawyers try to win – and I don’t mean fairly.

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If you're one of the nearly 10,000 long-time readers of this litigation consulting blog, you know that periodically, we list the recent articles that have proved the most popular. We measure popularity based on the number of times an article has been read, so these really are reader rankings. In today's article, I want to do something a little different. This time I'm listing not only the top three articles of the last quarter but also the current top three articles of all time (since 2011 when we started writing this blog). In a particular quarter, the top article may see a few thousands of individual readers reading it. However, an article on our blog for five or more years may see tens or hundreds of thousands of readers. Consistently, topics related to jury selection rank higher than those related to litigation graphics. I think this is because litigation graphics tend to be used primarily in large civil cases, whereas jury selection occurs in large and small cases and in both criminal and civil cases. These top articles should be interesting to many different types of readers. If you are interested in presenting at trial most effectively, the Netanyahu article should be studied carefully. If you participate in jury selection or hire people who do this kind of work, the voir dire article is a foundational piece. Top 3 Articles of Q2 2018:  Netanyahu Persuades and Presents Better Than Most Trial Lawyers     What Steve Jobs Can Teach Trial Lawyers About Trial Preparation     How Much do Jury Consultants, Litigation Graphics, and Hot-Seaters Cost -- Honestly?     Top 3 Articles Since 2011 (the life of our blog, The Litigation Consulting Report):   5 Questions to Ask in Voir Dire . . . Always   The Top 14 Testimony Tips for Litigators and Expert Witnesses   10 Ways to Spot Your Jury Foreman

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At A2L, we work on many disputes and trials of various types and sizes. Before starting work, we routinely provide our customers with estimates of what we think it will cost to engage us to conduct a mock trial, prepare trial presentations, assist in the development of the opening statement, and run the courtroom technology.   While it’s never easy to estimate the final costs of fast-moving complex litigation, it's something that firms like ours and large law firms do every day. We've been doing it for 24 years, and we've even pioneered some innovative pricing strategies for litigation graphics and trial tech work. However, I've noticed two schools of thought when it comes to estimating, and one of them seems to lead to better outcomes.   In shorthand, I'll call these two methods a top-down method and a bottom-up method. In my experience, the top-down method leads to more successful engagements, more wins, and much better and trusting relationships.  

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Here at A2L, we are delighted to introduce John Moustakas, our new Managing Director of Litigation Consulting and General Counsel. John comes to us from the international law firm Goodwin Procter, where he was a partner in the firm’s Securities Litigation and White Collar Defense Practice.  John is a highly successful trial lawyer who has tried more than 45 cases to a jury.  John spent more than six years as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, before returning to Shea & Gardner, where he had begun his legal career. In addition to trying numerous criminal cases for the United States, John has tried a variety of civil matters in a combined 20 years in private practice at Shea & Gardner and its successor, Goodwin Procter.  John laments the fact that, for many reasons, far fewer cases go to trial in the corporate world than even 20 years ago. “My approach to practicing law is pretty old school,” he says.  A generalist at heart, John “always loved the variety of litigation and never wanted to be pigeon-holed.”  He’s tried a wide variety of matters ranging from homicides and public corruption on the criminal side to civil disputes over contracts, torts, real estate, employment, securities, and civil rights, to name a few.  The unique focus of his new position attracted John.  “Above all else, I’ve most enjoyed the storytelling aspect of my work -- figuring out how to engage the jury and make them want us to win.”   Although he will no longer be a client’s advocate in court, he relishes the trade-off.  “Instead of trying my own case every four or five years, if I’m lucky, every matter I’ll be consulting on will be one bound for trial.  If I can leverage my experience to help others try their cases more persuasively, I will be one very happy guy,” he says. John says that one key to a trial lawyer’s success is to follow his or her own natural style and temperament.  “The jury, as a collective, is uncannily able to sniff out BS,” he says. “Pretend to be something or someone you’re not, and they will see right through you.”  Convinced that his authenticity was the greatest contributor to his success as a trial lawyer, John’s mission is to keep A2L’s clients true to their nature.  “So, while the goal is to help our clients strengthen their presentations with an emphasis on creating resonant themes and the engaging visuals that support them,” he says, “we help by pruning, not slashing -- by seasoning, not scrapping the recipe.  The lawyers it is our privilege to work with need nothing more.  While they cover the entire waterfront, sweating every detail, we have the luxury of focusing narrowly and with a bit of detachment.  And that is not only a rewarding role, but one that our clients feel makes a meaningful difference.”    John looks forward to bringing his insights and experiences to bear in this new chapter of his career in a way that makes that kind of difference. He can be reached at moustakas@A2LC.com or 703.548.1799. Related A2L resources about storytelling, litigation consulting, mock trials, and creating trial presentations that persuade: 9 Reasons Litigation Consultant is the Best Job Title in Litigation Who Is, and Who Isn’t, a Litigation Consultant? Free PDF: Why Work with A2L on Your Next Trial 3 Types of Litigation Graphics Consultants Top trial lawyers talk about working with A2L Top trial lawyers explain why storytelling is so critical for persuasion 10 Things Litigation Consultants Do That WOW Litigators Free E-Book: What is the Value of a Litigation Consultant? 21 Reasons a Litigator Is Your Best Litigation Graphics Consultant 3 Types of Litigation Graphics Consultants Free Webinar: Storytelling as a Persuasion Tool Free E-Book: Storytelling for Litigators Your Coach Is Not Better Than You – in the Courtroom or Elsewhere 10 Types of Value Added by Litigation Graphics Consultants Explaining the Value of Litigation Consulting to In-House Counsel 17 Reasons Why Litigation Consultants Are Better at Graphics Than Law Firms $300 Million of Litigation Consulting and Storytelling Validation Top 7 Things I've Observed as a Litigation Consultant

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A Surprising Lesson From Voir Dire

I get excited when I am called for jury duty. After all, my entire 25-year professional career has been focused on persuading judges and juries. Serving on a jury is a rare opportunity to get a view from the inside. It allows me to confirm everything I routinely watch in mock trials and have learned. For example, see 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said. When I get called, and yesterday was that rare day, I watch everything -- from how potential jurors are organized to the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of the pool, and every little choice the lawyers make, from clothing to tactics. Unfortunately, the fact that I am a litigation consultant always comes out during voir dire. The last time I was on jury duty, I made it through voir dire and served as foreman in a small traffic case. My fellow jurors said, “You know more about this than the rest of us, so you be our foreman.” That made sense to me, and I know myself to be a good facilitator of group discussions. It was all less formal and only five jurors were seated. Today was different. Thirty-six potential jurors were called for a 12-member jury. So I knew we were going to be facing a criminal matter. Ultimately, I was dismissed, but not before I had a chance to observe the process once again as a juror and to make some observations. Once voir dire began, I noticed that the prosecutor focused very heavily (probably too much) on potential jurors who had a connection with law enforcement and the legal industry. In the process, she exposed many government-friendly law and order jurors, doing herself a disservice. She also exposed me in a discussion around witnesses who lie – something that I had seen in a recent matter that A2L consulted on. Defense counsel put on an aggressive voir dire. She visibly angered many potential jurors by using deeply complicated hypotheticals and double negatives. Jurors turned against her, she invited many objections, and the judge ultimately turned against her as well. Her techniques exposed many jurors who were likely to be biased. However, her unapologetically brash approach distanced her from every juror. So, for the defendant's sake, I hope that her co-counsel is putting on the opening. This was not just my opinion. After being released, a group of 10 also-released jurors rode down in the elevator with me. They were abuzz with negative comments about defense counsel. I asked, so did she piss you off? The universal answer was hell yes. The lesson is that although there’s no question that it’s a good idea to weed out certain types of jurors, trial lawyers must never forget that they are dealing with human beings, not computers. It’s possible to antagonize the very jurors whose votes you need as early as the voir dire process. Don’t do anything that can stand in the way of building that fragile rapport that a trial lawyer needs to develop with the jury. Other free A2L Consulting articles and resources about voir dire, jury selection, being likeable, and more: 10 Ways to Lose Voir Dire Like It or Not: Likability Counts for Credibility in the Courtroom 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said A Jury Consultant Is Called for Jury Duty 5 Questions to Ask in Voir Dire . . . Always 5 Voir Dire Questions to Avoid The Voir Dire Handbook | Free Download | A2L Consulting Jury Selection and Voir Dire: Don't Ask, Don't Know 7 Tips to Take “Dire” out of Voir Dire 10 Ways to Spot Your Jury Foreman 5 Things Every Jury Needs From You 10 Signs of a Good Jury Questionnaire 13 Revolutionary Changes in Jury Consulting & Trial Consulting Is Hiring a Jury Consultant Really Worth It? 12 Insider Tips for Choosing a Jury Consultant Do I Need a Local Jury Consultant? Maybe. Here are 7 Considerations. Who Are The Highest-Rated Jury Consultants? Webinar: 12 Things Every Mock Juror Ever Has Said  

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