Monday, 6 March 2017

Assisting on a Jury Trial: A Quick Reference Guide

A month into the articling term, I was asked to assist on a three-week jury trial alongside a partner and an associate at the firm. To assist future students, I have prepared a quick reference guide that I hope will prove beneficial.

...create a reference binder for yourself of all the key documents...

Master the Background Material

To ensure you are able to assist in the best manner possible, learn the case from both a plaintiff and defence perspective. An excellent starting point is reading (and re-reading) the pre-trial memorandums prepared by both plaintiff and defence counsel. It is important to understand not only the difference of opinions of the law but also the factual details in dispute. Facts matter.

After this, create a reference binder for yourself of all the key documents, including the pre-trial memorandums, expert reports, memorandums and summaries that have been prepared by you or your colleagues. So when receiving instructions from the partner or associate, you will have quick access to key documents in order to be ready for any inquiry posed by them.

On-Call 24/7 for Each Day of the Trial

The nature of a trial means that unanticipated tasks will need to be completed before the trial commences for the day, while the trial is being held, and after the trial convenes for the day.

The partner and associate will undoubtedly be preparing well before the trial’s start-time of that day and may need assistance with the preparation of documents, or assistance with the witnesses who will be testifying later that day. As such it is imperative that you are physically accessible to assist them before they leave for the day.

Moreover, as the trial progresses throughout the day, unanticipated issues may arise. The partner or associate may take a few moments during a break to email you a quick research task. It is important that you are available, efficient, and effective during these small windows of opportunity.

When the trial convenes for the day, again be on-hand to assist the lawyer as they prepare for the following day of trial. This may include, researching points of law, drafting submissions, and preparing other court documents that will be used during the trial.


Observe & Learn

While assisting, ask the partner and/or associate, which days would be best for you to attend and observe the trial. This will allow you witness not only a part of your work come to life, but also the strong advocacy from both plaintiff and defence counsel, their interactions with the jury, and equally important, their exchanges with the trial judge.

Fortunately, I was able to witness the opening statements by the partner from our firm, as well as the senior opposing counsel, where each took a different strategic approach when addressing the jury. I also witnessed a contentious cross-examination of the plaintiff, whereby, part of the background factual research I conducted earlier in the day was used to effectively cross-examine the witness.

After three fast-paced weeks, the jury came back with a verdict in our favour!

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