Michael Braun on the Art of Trial Advocacy
Marietta, GA personal injury attorney Michael R. Braun goes over important aspects of proving successful in a trial.
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I’ll tell you it’s one of those things, I heard this a long, long time ago that cases can’t be won in opening statements but they certainly can be lost. Opening statements in my opinion are one of the most important parts of a trial because it really sets the stage for the what the evidence is going to show and what the story of your case is. And that’s kind of the most important thing to me is setting up the story, explaining to the jury why your client was injured and why they’re entitled to compensation for what they’ve been through. And it does go back to telling the story of your client.
Part of that is really getting to know your client beforehand. Sitting down and talking to them not just about the case but getting to know who they are as a person, what they’ve been through, what the case has caused them to experience, and how it’s affected not just them but their family. Oftentimes when you have significant injuries it affects everybody in your life not just you and it’s that story that becomes so important to explain to the jury so that on the back end when the jury is faced with having to make an award they understand all aspects of the case not just the injuries that have affected you. And all of that starts with the story in opening statements explaining those things to them and getting them to understand who your client is, what your client is about, and how the case is affected them.
I tell you cross-examination is probably the most fun part of the trial. It is the part where you get to, I hesitate to say invoke your will but to get the jury to understand why the person you’re cross examining is not necessarily telling the full story. I don’t want to say they’re telling mistruths ’cause that’s not always accurate a lot of times they’re telling you their side to the story and all stories have two sides. But cross-examination is an opportunity to bring out your case in the adverse party’s testimony. And it really can be the most fun part.
The basis of cross-examination though really starts in preparation. Taking the person’s deposition, learning the facts of what they’re going to testify about. If it’s an expert it’s real important to do your job beforehand and make sure that you understand the things that the expert is going to testify about so that you can ask them. They’re going to be an expert, they’re going to know their case, they’re going to know the support for their arguments your job is to know as much as they do so that you can ask the pertinent questions and get them on board with some of your philosophies and some of your case themes.
And so, cross examination, again, there’s an old saying in trial work don’t ever ask a question you don’t know the answer to already and the answers are all in the depositions that you take beforehand or the preparation that it takes to get ready for that cross examination beforehand. And so you learn everything there is to know so that when you’re asking those questions on cross you already know the answers before you even ask the question.
There’s a lawyer here in Atlanta who calls that the hootin’ and hollerin’ part of the trial and I’ve always liked that kind of explanation because that’s kind of what it is. And it’s kind of similar to opening from the standpoint of you can’t really win a trial in closing because if you haven’t won it by the time you get to that part then you’ve probably not done something correct along the way. But it is a chance to talk to the jury about what the case was about, how you see it, and kind of wrap all the pieces up together so that the jury understands your story and what you’ve been trying to tell them and what your client has been through.
Oftentimes, the hardest part of or certainly it used to be for me a long time ago the hardest part was the money ask. How do you ask for money? How do you go to a jury, look 12 people in the face, and ask them to award your client millions of dollars? And it’s gotten easier over the years for me because I’ve started to understand not that I’m asking for a million dollars or more but that that’s what my client deserves in many of these cases. My clients in many of these cases have been through just horrific losses whether it’s the loss of a loved one in a wrongful death case, whether it’s having to persevere through a surgery or whatever it may be.
Being in a wreck is no fun, tripping and falling because somebody else didn’t do something correctly or didn’t protect their property is no fun and the process in, and of itself is just not a fun process. It’s not something that anybody should be forced to go through. And when you start understanding those things that I was talking about getting to know your client and getting to know their story once you understand that then asking for the money becomes a lot easier because you understand they really in many cases deserving of large dollar figures because of simply what they’ve been through.
So the closing is your chance to talk to the jury about why your client is deserving of significant compensation for what they’ve been through. And it’s a really important part because there’s only two times in a trial where you do get to talk directly to the jury and one of them is opening statement and the last is closing argument. And it is the last thing that the jury will hear before they go back into the jury room to deliberate on the final verdict. And so it is a very important part they call it summation kind of closing everything together or looping everything together so that the jury understands what the client has been through and why they’re deserving of compensation.