The Trial: A Chaotic Experience

No matter how prepared you and your attorney are, the days before a trial are frantic and stressful. A good case can be like a work of art. At first glance, it can look flawless but when you stand back and tilt your head, there are always a few more minor adjustments to be made before it is seemingly perfect. But trials are not perfect. Nor are they a color-by-number picture with a beginning and an end brightly mapped out. Instead, trials are organic.

How are Trials Organic?

Trials are organic because they take on lives of their own. After the first hour or two in the courtroom, a rhythm usually develops, which can offer a little more comfort. Trials are never what you (or your attorney) expect. Perhaps they will be better or worse, but they rarely stick to the script. Human nature means life is fluid . . . and messy. Because life doesn’t have a pause button, new events are constantly taking place right up to the day of the trial.

The Human Factor

No two trials are the same, nor are they made up by the same cast of characters or backdrop. Besides the fear of the unknown, the parties have the pressure of court staring them in the face. Stress and tempers can flare between the plaintiff and the defendant. Last-minute blow-ups between the parties and extended family members can impact the direction of the trial too. One or both of the attorneys might be completely unaware of some major problem that just unfolded on the day before court. The script is sometimes scrapped early in the trial because of the unexpected testimony of a witness or two. In that event, your attorney must improvise, playing it by ear.

The Attorney

Approaching trial dates can cause people to reconsider whether they want to attempt settlement. It is common for clients and their attorneys to be in touch with the opposing party all through the late evening on the eve of court. While the attorneys are tending to last minute details of trial preparation, if their clients want to negotiate and settle the case, they might draft the settlement documents at the same time with the hope that their time has been well-spent and that the parties will sign it the next morning. Time is a luxury most attorneys don’t have. We might have two or even three trials back to back, a problem over which we have little if any control. In the meantime, preparing witnesses to testify too early means they’re more likely to forget what they discussed with the attorney, so last-minute calls to witnesses are the norm.

Everyone Else

It is a good idea to have friends and/or family with you in court for moral support. They have the best intentions but sometimes they insert themselves between you and your attorney, interrupting your huddle and distracting us from communicating during a quick 5-minute break. A main pet peeve judges have is the reactions of those in the courtroom. The attorneys are facing the judge at the front of the room, so they can’t see what happens behind them. There is often drama in the courtroom in family law cases. Loved ones sometimes roll their eyes, huff, shake their heads or cause disruption. Judges may stop the trial to tell the audience that such reactions are unacceptable. Further, they may be advised that if there is any further disruption, someone will be held in contempt of court.

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