A trial is a gathering of parties, both individuals and groups, to contend over the result of legal disputes or claims. In other words, trials are how we decide how our society’s laws should be upheld. Trials usually take one of two forms: trial by jury, and bench trial; the former’s outcome decided by a group of regular people from diverse walks of life, and the latter being decided by a single judge. Trials can be held for criminal defense and for civil matters.
There are two sides to every civil trial: the Plaintiff and the Defendant. A civil trial begins when the plaintiff files a Complaint with the court against the defendant, to answer for failing to do some legal duty owed to the plaintiff. This complaint requires an Answer from the defense, and thus the trial begins. To win, one side must be able to gain a “preponderance of evidence,” which means that their case must sway the court more than 50% in favor over the other side. So in order for the defendant to be liable for damages to the plaintiff, the plaintiff must be able to prove, through evidence, testimony, and guile, that the defendant did, in fact, wrong the plaintiff in some way.
What is a Trial Lawyer?
Trial lawyers represent their clients in court during the trial. For the plaintiff, the trial lawyer’s job is to convince the jury or judge that the defendant has, in fact, committed the offenses for which they are accused. This is done by presenting evidence, witness testimony, and other facts to the court, and connecting them to paint a picture that shows what really happened. The defendant’s goal is to provide enough evidence and testimony to refute the plaintiff’s case.
Every case that makes it to court is a story—with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Trial lawyers are the storytellers in these cases; the characters, setting, conflicts, and plot are laid out for their audience: the jury and/or judge. They hear the story, then decide what the final judgment should be.
While most cases are decided before a judge or jury reviews them, cases that do go to trial can be unpredictable. The preparedness, thoroughness, and persuasiveness of a trial lawyer are her key attributes, and are what separate failure from success.
“A great story is like a well-crafted joke—deliciously brief, immediately memorable, eminently repeatable and virtually impossible to dismiss.” —Kenneth Albers, actor and director
Attributes of a Great Colorado Trial Lawyer
Great trial skills are not the same as good legal skills. The best Colorado trial attorneys have specific qualities that suit them to their jobs.
The best Colorado trial lawyer for your case will have skills like:
- A great communicator. A successful trial attorney can articulate complex concepts using simple language, and impart emotions through words. A truly skilled attorney connects with the jury, pulling them into the story he tells. This counts double for interaction with his client—your attorney should be able to translate legal language into something understandable for the people he works for, so you’ll always be on the same page.
- Effective negotiator. Cases that go to trial may still end up in a settlement. Monetary awards, plea bargains, and other situations might still occur. Thus, a great negotiator could be exactly what’s needed when the time comes—and might make you a lot of money!
- Shrewd analyst. A great lawyer reads deeply into the facts of her case, and be able to draw legal conclusions that may not have been obvious. Analytical skills allow her to decode the law in her and her clients’ favor.
- Great lawyers know that as part of a team, they have more resources available to them, including the support they need to do their job most effectively. This is the advantage of working with an attorney who is part of a larger office; they have staff who can help with research, administration, and filing tasks. This allows the attorney to focus their expertise and talents on your case, rather than being distracted and bogged down with administrative or other non-legal work.
- Since law covers so many subjects, no one lawyer knows everything. Attorneys have their own areas of expertise, like doctors, and the best attorney for your case will be one who is experienced in that area of law.
- Adept legal writer. A surprising amount of a trial lawyer’s job centers around documentation for the court. This is mostly for the judge, who, if the case is a bench trial, may be the one deciding the outcome. Any attorney who can write legal prose with accuracy and clarity will have a big advantage in any case, in or out of the courtroom.
- Socially keen. Having interpersonal skills and the ability to “read the room” can make a huge difference in the courtroom. Since there are two sides to every case, and the jury and judge are hearing both, an attorney needs to be able to think quickly and respond appropriately to the social and emotional atmosphere.
- The more enthusiastic someone is, the more convincing they are. Great trial lawyers don’t just pretend to care what they’re talking about; they invest in and care about their clients. This gives them the energy to be genuinely interested and excited about the case. Passionate attorneys work harder, get better results, and ultimately, win others over to their cause.
In preparing for a civil trial, both parties undertake a process called “discovery.” Each party investigates the facts of the case by obtaining evidence from the opponent and others through “discovery devices,” including requests for interrogation responses, requests for the production of documents and items, requests for admission, and depositions.
Unlike admission requests, “Interrogatories” ask open-ended questions. For example, one attorney may ask the other party to identify any evidence they intend to rely on in support of their claims or defenses. With multiple subparts, interrogations can become quite complex, so most states limit the number of interrogatories that can be asked by either party.
Production requests allow one party to request that the other provide documents or other tangible evidence, including information stored electronically. This is the process used to obtain most of the physical evidence on which both the plaintiff and the defense rely when moving to trial. Production requests may also be addressed to non-parties and may be obtained by court order.
Finally, depositions are the process by which the parties take live testimony before the trial. Witnesses or parties are required to appear before a court reporter—who records the whole proceeding—and testify under oath. This is usually carried out in the office of an attorney, and attended by representatives of both or all of the parties. With no judge present to rule on any objections, depositions are usually only recorded by the court reporter and subsequently dealt with when the testimony is brought to trial.
Parts of a Trial
In the USA, having a trial by jury is a constitutional right. The trial process can be broken down into about 8 parts:
Jury Selection. Before the trial starts, the court will do a jury selection. They carefully pick an assortment of people with no relation or knowledge of each other, or of the case. The plaintiff and the defense are both allowed to exclude certain jurors by using “peremptory challenges” and “challenges for cause.” Peremptory challenge can exclude a juror for any non-discriminatory reason. A challenge for cause is when there is a valid reason that a certain juror could not be relied upon to be objective in deliberations on the case.
Opening Statements. The real beginning of the trial proceedings is the opening statements; one from the plaintiff and one from the defense. The plaintiff goes first and presents the facts of the case from their perspective. They explain to the jury what they intend to prove: whatever offense or breach of agreement the defendant allegedly committed. Afterwards, the defense will give their own interpretation of the facts, and an overview of how they intend to refute the accusations against them.
Plaintiff’s Case. Next, witness testimony and evidence are brought to light. The plaintiff will call eyewitnesses (if available) and/or relevant experts to testify. Physical evidence, such as documents, medical reports, or any other non-testimonial evidence will be offered up for the jury or judge to examine as well. Witnesses are “sworn in” with an oath to tell the truth, then they are directly questioned by the plaintiff. After this “direct examination,” the defense will get a chance to ask the same witness further questions, usually attempting to discredit the testimony. Afterwards, the plaintiff is allowed to question the witness again.
Defense’s Case. After the plaintiff is done presenting their case, the defense can present its own case. This proceeds similarly to how the plaintiff’s case was given, and is usually focused on discrediting or challenging the evidence and testimony already given by the plaintiff. After the case is given, both sides “rest,” with no more evidence or testimony to give from either side.
Closing Statements. Sometimes called “Closing Arguments,” this is usually to give a summary of each side’s case, and a recap of the evidence given by all. This is the last chance that the attorneys have to address the jury before they deliberate on their final decision.
Jury Instructions. Now that the arguments from both sides have been heard, the judge will tell the jury what the legal standards are for the case, so they can make a decision that is directly translatable to stipulations of the law. An example: the defendant is accused of “breach of contract.” The judge explains what type of contract it was, explains related offenses, and explains what findings are required to rule in favor of either party.
Jury Deliberation. At this point the jury is allowed to discuss the case among themselves. This can take anywhere between a few hours to months, in some cases. In Colorado, as in most states, a unanimous verdict is required to decide the outcome of the trial—anything less, and the judge will likely declare a “mistrial,” which can cause the case to be “thrown out” (essentially, the defendant wins), or to start over with a new jury.
Verdict. When the jury reaches a verdict, the jury “foreperson” (person selected to represent the jury) presents it to the judge, who will announce the decision to the court.
Appeals. A losing party in a civil trial may appeal their case to a higher court. The two parties then present their cases again, to the higher court, in the form of briefs. Usually, this higher court will be looking for legal errors rather than reviewing the facts of the case. If errors are found, they may reverse the verdict or order a re-trial. Any appeal will usually extend the litigation process by a year or more.
Settling Out of Court
It is estimated that over 90% of American civil suits result in a settlement. A settlement is simply a formal resolution of the dispute that would otherwise have gone to trial. Usually, this involves the defense offering to pay the plaintiff a sum of money in exchange for the plaintiff releasing the defendant from liability.
A good reason to settle is actually to save money. Court is expensive, and trials can go on for months or even years. Even winning the case can put you at a net loss after all the court and attorney fees. This is often a key consideration for plaintiffs in potential cases for trial. Settling is also economical in time; a skilled trial attorney can usually find acceptable settlement terms quickly, in a fraction of the time a trial takes.
Another reason to settle is privacy. Court proceedings are generally public affairs, and your case could make news, which might not be what’s best for your side. Settlements, on the other hand, are behind closed doors.
Settlement agreements, however, are final, with no chance for appeal. If your opponent wins in a civil trial, an appeal to a higher court is always an option (albeit a potentially expensive one). Settling means the matter is closed, and no appeal is possible. This is generally more appealing to the plaintiff, who in case of settlement, is guaranteed to receive the money they settle for.
Find the Best Colorado Lawyer for Your Case
A trial is a critical process that can result in being paid a huge sum of money—or having to pay such a sum, which most people would like to avoid. An experienced, wise, and persuasive lawyer is the best chance you have at winning in any case that goes to trial.
Robinson & Henry’s trial attorneys are experienced and passionate about what they do. They draw from a large experience pool, and have different specialties including business disputes, collections, commercial litigation, and more. No matter the details of your case, you’ll need confident legal representation that represents you in the most favorable light possible. Our award-winning attorneys have helped dozens of Colorado clients get through trials in a timely manner with favorable results. Don’t leave your case to chance, or to inexperienced representation. Call Robinson & Henry for a consultation today, and find the best attorney for your trial.
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