In Preparing Difficult Witnesses for Trial — Part 1, we looked at the four major types of trial witnesses. We also sketched “some of the more significant ethical considerations that govern your dealings with each category”. We then took “a short and non-exhaustive look at the two major privileges that trial lawyers deal with: the lawyer-client privilege and the lawyer work-product doctrine.”

In this post, we’ll cover the necessity for getting really ready and something you may find surprising — the importance of caring.
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For your client to win at trial, the trial lawyer in you must tell a human story, one that moves jurors to decide in your client’s favor. Flesh-and-blood witnesses fill essential roles in the drama. So-so ones will turn the story to mush, and bad ones will allow your friend on the other side to beat you and your client about the head and neck with it. Difficult witnesses – DWs – therefore pose a risk you must use all your talents and powers to manage.

How can you prepare DWs for their potentially pivotal turn on the courtroom stage? In this series of posts, I offer thoughts from 33 years of trying cases.
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Arise, ye claimants

For more than 40 years, you could wait (and wait and wait) to decide whether or not to opt out of a class action in order to pursue your own individual case. You didn’t have to squawk until (1) you got formal notice of your right to remove yourself from the class and (b) you failed to timely respond by saying “I opt out. Leave me alone. I would rather do it myself! More money for me!!

But the thing that gave you leisure — American Pipe tolling — went partially poof last week. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 (with Gorsuch in the role of Scalia) that tolling may apply to a statute of “limitations” but doesn’t stop the tick-tock under a statute of “repose”. California Public Employees’ Retirement Sys. v. ANZ Securities, Inc., No. 16-373 (U.S. June 26, 2017).

Wake up, people! You may need to move fast.

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IMG_0359Location

The place of suit matters a lot in civil cases. Suing at home helps the plaintiff — by keeping her costs low, giving her comfort that local judges and juries will give her fair treatment, and throwing out-of-town defendants off balance. All of that bigly boosts the plaintiff’s chances of success.

But a trio of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings promise to make plaintiffs’ home fields more like patches of weeds than acres of sweet verdance.
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How many trial lawyers sit on the U.S. Supreme Court?
How many trial lawyers sit on the U.S. Supreme Court?

In the last quarter-century and more, no current member of the Supreme Court tried a lawsuit of any kind to a judge or jury. Almost none of the justices has ever tried a civil case to verdict. And before their honors became appellate judges, only one of their number served as a full-time trial judge.

Does the justices’ nearly total lack of trial-lawyer chops matter? Has the almost utter absence of actual trial experience in fact degraded the quality of civil justice? And will confirming the nomination of a former trial lawyer like Neil Gorsuch make a difference?

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497417651327Possible shift

In 2014, the ABA Journal called the Fifth Circuit the “nation’s most divisive, controversial and conservative appeals court”. Liberal blog Jezebel deemed it “exceedingly conservative”. Even The Wall Street Journal described the court this year as “conservative-leaning”.

But in a recent case over limits on voting rights, the court ruled for the left-leaning opponents of the restrictions. And last week, the court sitting en banc voted 11-5 to revive a $250+ million class action. Torres v. S.G.E. Management, L.L.C., No. 14-20128 (5th Cir. Sept. 30, 2016) (en banc).

Has the court’s center of gravity shifted?


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