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Saturday, April 21, 2012

The benefits of courtroom trials

Last Friday, my client sat next to me, hyperventilating.  The jury had returned with its verdict and the judge’s clerk was reading it.  A three-year process had just culminated with a jury trial . . .

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti
He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs,
but he keeps on forgetting what he wrote down,
the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won't come out

These are the immortal words of Eminem from his celebrated rap song Lose Yourself.  Eminem accurately describes the feelings I experience before standing up and making an argument in front of a jury.  Jury trials are becoming more and more of a rarity.  The entire system is set up to push people out of the courtroom and into settlement.  A decent mediator can convince almost anyone, no matter how strong their case is, that they should settle.  Settling and avoiding litigation is not always the right move.  In the past I have written about avoiding litigation and how to utilize a business lawyer.  A good business lawyer will help you evaluate which battles should be waged.  However, a business lawyer whose primary objective is to avoid litigation is not a business lawyer worth hiring.

Sometimes a trial is required in order for justice to prevail.  Other times a trial is required because it is an all-or-nothing deal.  A trial may be necessary to make sure you maintain your credibility in the business community.  A trial may be necessary to back up promises you have made.  A business person that comes into a case needs to be prepared from the outset emotionally, psychologically, and financially to take the matter all the way through trial.  Focusing on settlement from the outset sets that business person up to make a bad deal.  If you are in litigation or headed there you need a trial attorney.  First and foremost, a trial lawyer likes to be in trial.  This does not mean a trial lawyer does not get nervous or fear the unknown; rather it means despite all of the stress, a trial lawyer likes being in court and putting on a case.  Decent trial attorneys come in all varieties but elements that should always be present are hard work and preparation.

When I stood up to do my opening statement to the jury last week, my mind was racing.  I represented a business who was suing another business for fraud and breach of contract.  On the other side of the equation, my client was being sued for breach of contract and misappropriating trade secrets.  My mind was racing because my client’s future as a business depended on the 12 jurors seated in front of me.  There is nothing louder than the emotionless and silent stares of a jury as you stand before them.  Unlike the Eminem song, the words did come out and I was able to present our case.  The only reason I was able to do so was because of my client’s belief in a jury.  My client was pressured from many different people to settle the case and was told to be afraid of the jury trial.  She wanted her day in court and resisted attempts to settle the case on terms that were not favorable to her company.  It took three years to get the case to trial, yet she persisted.

After the evidence had been presented and closing arguments made, we waited for the jury to deliberate.  There is no worse time in a trial lawyer’s life than waiting for a jury to come back with a verdict.  While we waited, not knowing the outcome, my client persisted in her conviction that a jury trial was the best course of action.

. . . the clerk finished reading the verdict.  When I confirmed to my client we had won on all counts she had difficulty breathing for a different reason.  In her case, win or lose, a trial was the best business decision she could have made.  My client won the moment she decided she was taking her case to trial.

Jeff Brunson is an attorney and shareholder at Beard St. Clair Gaffney PA.  The opinions contained are his own and nothing written should be construed as legal advice.  Jeff's practice involves litigation, business disputes, and estate disputes.  He can be reached at his Rexburg office, 520 First American Circle, (208) 359-5883, jeff@beardstclair.com or follow him on Twitter @jeffbrunson.

Staff at 1:28 PM
Litigation
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