Legal Research is Usually the First Thing That Gets Skimped Out On
Nothing Here is Intended as Legal Advice
to Draft Law and Motion
Engage & Persuade Using Trial Theme/Story
Excellent Demographics for Career Opportunities
Most Felonies Can Never Be Expunged
Trial Theme and Story Presentation
Paralegals use their legal skills and education to organize documents into a usable format for attorneys by setting up and maintaining files organized by litigation sub-categories of pleadings, discovery, legal research and correspondence. Scanning and photocopying documents and organizing into digital files is an art and a science. Faxing and emailing is integral to a law firm’s practice. Propounding and responding to discovery involves factual findings, database interface and client liaison for effective special interrogatories, requests for production of documents and requests for admissions. Drafting clear, concise correspondence from an experienced paralegals perspective views every letter or document created as a possible motion exhibit. Depositions involve handling expert witnesses, exhibits and law firm calendaring. Find and retain expert witnesses and assist with drafting doctor, forensic accountants and engineer declarations. Drafting motions requires online and law library legal research, pulling relevant documents as exhibits and drafting law and motion by applying legal authority to facts in order to persuade the court. Filing pleadings at court and serving the opposing parties. A paralegal is a law firm’s ground level legal advocate. Act as liaison between internal departments. Trial preparation, presentations, voir dire and jury instructions. Sit at the counsel table and take notes on witness testimony and jury reactions. Paralegals are professional problem solvers who gain valuable real-life working legal experience by working hard alongside experienced attorneys during all phases of litigation practice and procedure from pre-trial, post-trial and the appellate process. The main tool of paralegals is the laptop computer as a portal to the world of fast-paced information gathering, processing and management. Paralegals are self-motivated life-long learners who thrive on change and challenge. Great paralegals learn how to think and act like great attorneys. Information is power and a paralegals job duty number one is to apply statutes, codes and case law to evidence to create compelling persuassion.
Retaining a contract paralegal for discovery and trial preparation is an economical way to staff the digital law firm of today. The Los Angeles paralegal market offers both contract paralegals and paralegals looking for regular permanent positions, so why not “test drive” a contract before you hire? You can also try out a paralegal on a temporary to permanent basis using a legal placement agency. If you are only going to trial once every three years you don’t need an expensive trial exhibit software program or a big-budget animation from a digital production house. You need a seasoned trial paralegal who can give your closing the human touch by putting your exhibits on the courtroom overhead projector. Juries want to be treated warmly, not bored and murdered with PowerPoint bullets of needless exhibits that do nothing to emotionally engage them with your information.
How do you know if you will really like that new paralegal you want to hire? How do you know if your new hire is going to be the right person for your office or just another big hit to your unemployment insurance or next year’s disability claim? Will your new hire be able to learn new procedures, technology and facts on the spot without caving in?
Litigation is difficult for the hardiest of litigation support staff even under normal conditions. What will happen when that case you thought was going to settle unexpectedly goes out to trial? Who will step in to take on the extra work of joint exhibit lists and jury instructions?
I have just finished working on a federal trial with a celebrity attorney from the O.J. Simpson murder trial who let proposed jury instructions on employee safe harbor go to the very last day of trial. The entire courtroom gets irritated if counsel is slow with procedure.
I have sat at the counsel table for a Los Angeles Superior Court trial in Santa Monica and two U.S. District Court Trials, one in Riverside and a Medicare Fraud trial at the Roybal Center in Downtown LA.
Divorce paralegal or legal document assistants (LDA’s) are bonded for approximately $500 every two-years by a surety company and then registered for another two years by the County of Los Angeles for approximately another $213.00. I will post you with the exact amount next week when I go to Norwalk, California to renew my LDA permit with my UCLA Extension Paralegal Certificate. I will try and shoot some YouTube video when I am renewing my LDA registration in Norwalk, CA.
A good divorce paralegal keeps notes on the filing idiosyncrasies of the LA Superior Court Clerks. Paralegal divorce stipulation and orders, marital agreements, court forms and other documents can be legally filled out with assistance from a LDA. Legal document assistants such as “We The People” mostly do family law court forms such as the FL-165 Declaration for Default or Uncontested Divorce, FL-182 Divorce Checklist and other forms that the consumer chooses herself.
The LDA cannot select which divorce forms to use or give advice about what the correct divorce package contains. The non-attorney divorce client must learn about divorce law on the Internet and then inform the LDA which court forms are required pursuant to the Family Law form FL-182.
Divorce paralegals should be really good with client contact and turning around an unhappy customer. One question many sales managers will ask on a job interview is how you turned about an unsatisfied customer. I just responded that most customers are unsatisfied because what they need to find is a connection with what can be real in their immediate lives, such as the infinite small still voice of God. Divorce paralegals should be people persons who enjoy helping people who are in emotional and financial turmoil and despair.
My own divorce was a tremendously healing and transformational experience. I took two years to be alone and ponder the spiritual and eternal aspects of my divorce. I stayed single for two years before I dated after my divorce.
Time and time again as a trial preparation paralegal I have worked for attorneys who are totally unprepared for the courtroom end game. Inexperienced lawyers think that just because they have a case that makes sense to them as a legal thinker, that this will somehow transform itself into an eight figure verdict at a jury trial. Don’t deceive yourself by conducting your jury trial inside your own head. I have sat in agony at the counsel table with plaintiff’s attorneys while experienced attorneys from Lewis Brisbois and Gibson Dunn ate plaintiff’s lunch and handed the losing attorney the dirty utensils and left over crumbs. At the end of the day, great defense lawyers go to the statutes and read them in open court. Sometimes that is all it takes to close the deal in an easy case where plaintiff has evidenced absolutely no elements of their causes of action. However that experienced attorney probably also used story and emotion to sway the jury.
In all fairness litigation is not easy for anyone involved and many attorneys are unprepared for trial because most cases never make it to the glorious dramatic end game called trial. Dramatic spell-binding trials usually only happen in movies and on the small (and getting smaller) screen. Have you ever actually been to a typical trial? Real trials are rather boring and move in slow motion compared to what Hollywood cranks out for us. Many lawyers became lawyers because of the excitement of fictional trials. Please allow me to introduce myself, I am an experienced trial paralegal, hope you guess my name. Just call me well-prepared-sales-closer, ’cause that’s the nature of my game.
Human beings naturally make up stories. Think about how people are constantly using a story framework in casual conversations. Most of what people discuss in their social lives are stories and gossip, not facts applied to law. Why should your jurors care enough to stay awake and process the information you are force feeding them at trial: Because of the social value it brings to them. I am somewhat of a social elitist and even I waste time on Facebook “socializing” with friends from high school whom I have not seen in person for over thirty years. I get an artificial social buzz from “social” media and you can replicate that at trial. The human brain is highly activated by other people’s goals, interests and feelings. People want to know what you do, who you are married to and if your kids are on drugs.
You cannot change jurors or their capacities at trial; but you can change your approach to them. You can tailor your approach by putting the facts into the context of a story, both verbally and visually. An effective story provides relationships between the facts and the characters. It addresses the characters’ motives or intentions. It puts this information into a context, a physical and psychological environment – the setting. Doing these things will make you more persuasive at trial. How do we know this? We can read the brains of storytellers and story-listeners. Studies show that while listening to an effective story, listeners’ brains react more like participants than spectators.
To impact an audience such as a jury, a story must do three things: (1) emotionally transport the audience by moving them and having them get “lost” in it; (2) include characters facing problems and trying to overcome them, but not engaging in mere meaningless problem solving; and (3) communicate some message or moral, meaning some set of values or ideas. Otherwise, the story will seem “empty” and not important enough to pay attention to.
There are several guidelines to help you turn your evidence into a story worth telling. The essential elements you need to provide are:
1. Theme of your case
2. Compelling characters via good cop bad cop
4. Conflict and Resolution
5. Messages and the Consequences
In order to figure out these elements in a lawsuit setting, the first and critical question to ask and answer is: “What really happened here?” The most common mistake is that litigators don’t bother to ask the question, or they answer it with how it (whatever “it” is) happened. Rattling off a series of events – but not the bottom line of what happened – is disastrous to connecting with jurors and telling a compelling story about your client. As a litigator, you must ask yourself “Why must you tell THIS story?” and “What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off?”
In order to make all of this happen you have to start at the beginning. The beginning of trial starts with having your paralegal prepare the entire file and especially the discovery section of the file, as if every file is going to trial. Did you plan your discovery as part of your trial theme? Good trial attorneys taught me to prepare every step of every case for trial starting from day one by using a trial preparation checklist. Because most litigators do not do this type of time intensive detailed preparation of all litigation files, I have an interesting career as a trial preparation “catch-up” paralegal. Litigation attorneys literally call me up the night before a trial asking me to go to trial with them the very next day! That is why I am writing this blog. An attorney called me on Monday afternoon to go to a trial the next day in U.S. District Court, Central District of California on Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles. I really wanted to accept this contract litigation trial paralegal assignment however I was meeting an attorney to prepare an ex parte application in an hour.
Today I am booked with legal marketing and a dental appointment so I am burning off my trial energy by writing this blog before I start researching and drafting an insurance fraud complaint. Throughout it all I keep thinking of the attorney who called me with that trial assignment in federal court. The main point of this blog is for me to ask all of you litigation attorneys to retain me early on for your trial paralegal work. I can help however I need notice. I need time to work your documents and testimony into a good trial story. Call me to work up your trial theme. But please call me before the trial begins.
Special thanks to A2L Consulting in D.C. for their excellent pdf book on trial preparation. Consultants and expert witnesses are expensive. As a paralegal it is my job to be the economical solution to high priced vendors and consultants. I am a one man trial package: I am good with multi-media & audio-visual equipment and an experienced litigation paralegal with trial experience so all me today for your trial next month and you will be glad you did!
After counsel have discussed available trial dates in the case management statement (Judicial Council Form CM-110) and at case management conference (CRC 3.727(14)); if ready for trial the court will set a date as part of the case management orders.
Final Pretrial Motions (Issues Normally in Case Management Statement/Order)
Evidence Grid (Proof Checklists)
Witnesses and Records Needed at Trial
Charts, graphs, blow-ups)
Trial Notebooks are an important responsibility of the litigation paralegal.
Documents required at Final Status Conference:
Motions in Limine
List of Witnesses
List of prenumbered Exhibits
Proposed Jury Instructions
Proposed Verdict Forms
Ideally, the trial preparation paralegal should be the same litigation paralegal that worked the file from the beginning and is familiar with the discovery, evidence, and legal issues in the case. As a practical matter, the litigation paralegal will know where all the resources the trial paralegal will need are located and filed, whether digitally or hard copies or a hybrid.
When the litigation paralegal starts working on the exhibit and witness lists then she starts to become the trial paralegal. Usually a court will require joint exhibit and witness lists which means plaintiff and defendants evidence will be combined onto one list. A good trial paralegal will get ready for jury instructions by opening up whatever software or other means the trial attorney wants to use for his jury instructions, whether they be BAJI or CACI. These days mostly CACI jury instructions are used.
Dean has worked on three trials, one a personal injury in Los Angeles County Superior Court Santa Monica and the other a police misconduct in Riverside U.S. District Court. In Riverside the attorney mistakenly believed he could present some multimedia and win the case but unfortunately for our side this did not happen. In the personal injury lawsuit we defensed plaintiff’s rather weak case by out manning the other side with a paralegal, legal secretary, attorney team that out gunned their claims.
Dean@LegalNoodle.com is a litigation paralegal living and working in Palm Springs and West Los Angeles. He is not an attorney and does not provide legal advice.