Historically we have had clients attend almost every day of trial. Clients are curious and want to see the whole proceeding. Over the course of the last couple of years, my thinking on client attendance has changed.
My preference, at this point, is to have clients attend for the introductory remarks by the court, and then to leave for jury selection.
Attending for the introductory remarks shows that the client is engaged and has shown up, just like all the potential jurors.
Having the client out of the courtroom for jury selection allows for a much more candid discussion about issues that may come up during trial. Jurors can express their opinions without risk of hurting the client’s feelings. That allows us to have a better shot at picking a fair and impartial jury.
Ideally, the next time the jury would see the client is when they testify.
I like to have clients testify at the end of the case. That way, the other witnesses have established most, if not all, of the key points and the client doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting.
Also, because other witnesses have testified about the incident, injuries, treatment, and effect on the client, there is a built-in believability rather than skepticism with the jury.
Even if there is a loss of consortium claim, I think it’s okay for the spouse to be present for the entire trial. That way, the jury knows the family is engaged and has “shown up” for the entire proceeding.
If there is no spouse, I think it’s just fine for the client to be present in the courthouse (for instance, waiting outside the courtroom), but not actually in the courtroom for the proceedings.
Arbitrations are a lot like trials. But they don’t involve jury selection and there’s a lot less theater.
Also, there’s the expectation that clients are going to be present for the whole proceeding.
So if clients end up sitting through arbitration or trial here’s our advice for them:
- Don’t try to connect with the jury, judge or arbitrator
- Don’t react to rulings, arguments or witness testimony
- If you need to do something besides listen, make notes
The focus should be on the client when she’s testifying, not when she’s off the stand. When clients aren’t testifying, they need to “disappear” even when they’re in the courtroom.
If you have feedback or a different view of how this should be handled, let me know. My thinking about how to get the best possible results for clients is always evolving.