As an actress and dancer, I know how important it is to ensure that the members of your cast know their lines, the choreography and are ready to stay on their toes to compensate for any mistakes that are made during a live performance. These same principles hold true when it comes to presenting a case at trial. The attorney and paralegal must work together to put on a performance worthy of a Tony, or in this case, a win for the client. Here are a few tips for paralegals to execute in the days leading up to trial to ensure success:
Know your Exhibits
It is extremely important that paralegals know every exhibit likely to be presented at trial whether it is a marked exhibit or an impeachment exhibit. You will be the person the attorney relies on to provide documents to support the arguments laid out in direct or cross-examination outlines. In addition, it is important that you prepare an organized database that is easy to navigate during trial to display these exhibits for the court. Plus, it is common for an experienced trial attorney to add exhibits, drop exhibits, or change the order of exhibits to maximize their impact at trial. Be ready to be flexible!
Technology is here to stay in courtrooms. Paralegals are expected to master the technology in order to seamlessly display digital exhibits for the judge and jury. Do not forget to do several test runs of your digital presentation before trial so that you know all the presentation software shortcuts and know the correct order of exhibits as presented in the prepared outlines. After all, you would not take the stage without first rehearsing, would you?
Know your Firm’s Technology Policies
Once you have mastered the art of digital presentation at trial you will notice that opposing counsel will want to borrow your skills. This is a sticky issue as it may violate your firm’s technology policy. Many firms have policies that prohibit outside law firms from plugging external hard drives or other media into firm issued laptops. Always check with your technology team before trial and confer with the other side to confirm whether or not you will be sharing electronic equipment. With advance notice, your technology team may opt for alternative setups knowing the potential security issues that can arise with shared technology.
Be Prepared for the Unexpected
You never know when a dead pen, sudden hunger, bad breath, or dehydration will strike during the stressful experience of trial. Be prepared to stay on your toes during these moments, and pack an emergency kit for trial along with the myriad of exhibits and documents already ready to go. This kit may include: bottled water, granola bars, breath mints, extra power cords, a stapler, a hole punch, pens, highlighters, post-it notes, legal pads, manila folders, and instant fabric stain removers. The list may go on and on! Use your imagination and think of anything that may come in handy in the heat of trial.
Just as rehearsals improve the odds that a show will go off without a hitch, so does trial preparation - knowing your exhibits and being prepared to assist your attorneys with anything they may need can set up a paralegal for a brilliant performance. Trial preparation is often a crazy time, but having a solid plan in place will alleviate a large amount of stress when the morning of the big performance comes around. After all, the show must go on.
Emily Brady is a paralegal at McManis Faulkner. She assists attorneys in all practice areas. Throughout discovery and trial preparation, she supports the legal teams with research and documentation and is also called upon to help with case management and scheduling. Outside of the office, Emily can be seen singing and dancing in local theatre productions.