I was just having a conversation with a former colleague who defends against personal injury cases, mostly auto and truck collisions. We were discussing a trial he had recently finished, and he had remarked to me that he thought the plaintiff was poorly prepared for his testimony at trial. Basically, he thought the jury would have awarded the plaintiff more money if he had been better prepared.
This confirms my own experience. Client preparation is something many personal injury lawyers do not do very well. I’m not sure if this is because of the time pressure created by a busy practice, or because of a simple lack of awareness of how important client prep is to success at trial.
At Miller & Zois, one of the fundamental principles of our personal injury trial practice is that we strive to get the most out of the portions of our case that we control. Perhaps the biggest thing in a trial that you have some degree of control over is the presentation of the client. The old saw that a personal injury trial is a “beauty contest” is true. If the plaintiff is not credible and likable, it will be very tough to get a good result.
The client should never hear a question at trial that has not been gone over in prep. This is a twofold challenge. The client needs to understand the goals and structure of their counsel’s direct examination and also needs to be ready for questions to be expected in cross-examination. I generally do at least one mock direct and mock cross with each client. The client needs to be aware of any prior injury claims, or any medical problems to the body parts at issue. The client needs to be familiar with their deposition testimony, and the answers to interrogatories. I make sure the client has copies of the following: all medical records and bills, answers to interrogatories, deposition testimony.
At a minimum, the client should know and be able to relate the basics of the injury, its effects, and the medical treatment. I have found that clients who are well prepared get better results at trial. Generally, the time spent is worth it.