Perez Law Group
I was lucky – as a young lawyer I had the opportunity to try a lot of personal injury cases by myself, A – Z. Not as a second chair, as the lead, and only, counsel, which is definitely not the norm. My boss at the time, with a little trust but a gut instinct about my abilities, threw me into the deep end to see if I would sink or swim. I swam. I say I was lucky because it provided me with a wealth of experience and lessons that cannot be learned in a textbook or any other way other than doing it, living it. Here are a couple of memorable cases that taught me vital lessons and shaped me into the litigator I am today.
No File, No Problem
My third trial really threw me for a loop. I was set to start a car accident trial on a Monday and had prepped all weekend. I also had to report for court that same day at 9 AM for a possible trial, but as all lawyers know, anything that hasn’t been confirmed usually doesn’t go forward. That being said, I hyper-focused on my set trial all weekend and didn’t look at one single page of case file from my 9 AM.
I reported for the 9 AM prepared to tell the Judge (an old-school guy, Jack Turner) that I was already “special set” for a trial at 1:30 PM and of course wouldn’t be available for his trial. Well, it turned out that all the other cases with Judge Turner settled and I was his only case and he was calling up a jury. As the blood drained from my face, I stammered that I’m set to start at 1:30 PM with Judge Shapiro. Judge Turner, in his Southern drawl, coolly said, “Son, you may be set to start at 1:30 with Shapiro, but you’re pickin’ a jury with me in 10 minutes…”.
I didn’t have a file. I didn’t have client. I didn’t know a thing about the case. So, I could only do one thing – LISTEN. Listen closely as the Judge presented the case, to everything the opposing counsel said, take notes, and listen some more. As we were picking the jury, the other attorney told them his client was so injured that she can’t bend over. Magically, (or as an Act of God) three minutes later, a paper fell from his table and his client instinctively bent over to pick it up. One of the jurors saw this happen and stared at me with a look that said, “Hey, did you see THAT?”.
I mentioned it to opposing counsel during a break and he panicked and agreed to settle the case for the last offer we’d made at pre-trial.
Lessons learned: Expect anything, listen and watch what’s going on in the courtroom!
Miami Lawyer in Marathon
Another significant memory was when I tried a case in Marathon, Florida. I represented a door company whose delivery truck rear ended another car on US1, and the plaintiff claimed she suffered herniated discs in her neck as a result.
The plaintiff lived in Marathon and a lot of the jury panel (about 50 possible jurors) knew her. Her banker was on the panel, her neighbors, one juror even said “yeah, I recall this accident, it ruined her life,”. Heck, we even had one of the witnesses to the accident who testified in the trial the next day.
Perez Law Group, Coral Gables Office
The odds for a fair trial were stacked against us to say the least. But we plugged along, and after asking questions trying to get an unbiased group, I stopped and asked the entire panel this – “Look, I’m a Miami lawyer down here in Marathon representing a door company and the other side is a Marathon resident that most of you know. I know the Keys community is very strong and you all stick together, but this is a court of law, so, let me ask one question. Can I get a fair trial in Marathon, Florida from you guys?”.
We got a very favorable verdict four days later.
Lesson learned: Be honest. Be straight forward. The jury, your client, the Judge, etc. will respect you, for respecting them. It’s not flash, antics, or silly arguments. Level with people, it’s worth it.
In my career, I have tried over 130 jury trials. I have learned there are litigators and there are trial lawyers. Litigators push paper, but few ever try cases. Even fewer try them well, with passion, and in an honorable manner. I do. There exists an interesting balance that a trial lawyer possesses – a mix of confidence and humility, aggressiveness and reserve, passion and cool judgment. I possess those qualities and know when each needs to be called into action.
Which segues into my final and most important point about trials – experience. There is no substitute for it. You have to put yourself in the trenches and trying cases is not for the faint of heart. Every trial teaches you something. Lessons are learned through living the trial experience. You learn to anticipate what juries expect, how different Judges handle evidence, and what tactics the other attorney may come up with.
Trial involves many emotions: excitement and uncertainty, ups and downs, concern and confidence.
I love it.