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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Progress report from the courthouse trenches

To be very crude, a crusty, longwinded trial lawyer with a gray beard like mine doesn't have many cherries left to pop. But although in the last twenty-five years I've tried a couple of dozen personal injury cases from the defense side, and also have handled many dozens more from the plaintiff's side in pretrial proceedings that ended up in settlements more recently, I've never — before this afternoon — listened to the judge read the verdict of the jury in a personal injury case I've tried all the way through from the plaintiff's side. This, in a case in which I first entered my appearance as (successor) counsel of record for the plaintiff last Wednesday, and picked a jury yesterday morning.

Tactical victory: A favorable verdict, and one slightly in excess of the pretrial settlement offer. Strategic disappointment: A verdict far, far below what I'd hoped for and expected.

It was an absolutely clean trial — a fine judge; competent and talented and very professional opposing counsel; cost-effective and swift justice for both sides. I know I did my best. And the result — although hugely disappointing — doesn't shake my fundamental faith in the jury system. There are lessons to be learned, I'm sure. But tonight the surprise and the sting on my cheek are still too fresh to try to speak or infer them; and the case isn't quite final yet, and I don't have my client's permission to say anything more here yet anyway.

A colleague who watched the trial will interview the jurors by phone in the next few days, and I hope from that to be able to draw some tentative conclusions: Did I overplay my hand, or did I misread it to begin with? From what's admittedly only a tiny data point — albeit one that looms large in my personal viewpoint at the moment — can I draw any interesting conclusions, for example, about broad changes in jury attitudes, perhaps due to public concern about "tort reform"? Perhaps, perhaps; I think maybe so; but I dunno yet, I just ... don't know.

I'm reminded of a motivational saying I've seen variously attributed to Hippocrates, Chaucer, and Abraham Lincoln: "The life so short, the craft so long to learn." That much, I certainly can confidently affirm.

Posted by Beldar at 08:48 PM in Law (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


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Tracked on Mar 17, 2005 8:22:48 AM