NeuwirthLawCase Matters, Courts, For Lawyers, Law Practice Management

Editor Note: You have to dig deep to find an interesting Trial Notice image.

When a case is getting close to trial, the Courts will let us know by sending out a trial notice. When I was a younger defense lawyer with an oversize volume of cases, this would start a panic at the office as we struggled to make sure everything was ready for Court.

As a plaintiff’s lawyer, while trial notices are not my favorite mail, they do present a chance to really dig into a case and see if the case can settle or if it has to go to trial. Usually, Courts outside of Philadelphia County are fairly flexible with scheduling of trials.  Courts in every county allow us to put in conflict letters telling the Court that we will be on vacation on x days and unavailable. As long as both sides are wiling to accommodate each other and the Court is agreeable, the case will get to trial eventually.  The Court does not usually care too much as long as both sides are moving towards settlement or trial. In federal court, the judges and the system is more geared towards forcing litigants to trial on the Court’s own schedule and less accommodating of our demand and needs.

The nice thing about trial is it is a final reckoning or resolution of the case.  There are rarely appeals from personal injury cases as the jury’s word carries a lot of weight with appeals courts. If you have a jury verdict for or against you, there had better be a big fat clear issue to address on appeal or you are going to lose more often than not.

Once a trial notice comes in, my first call is usually to opposing counsel to see how they are feeling about the case, the schedule, conflicts and to get a sense of when the case will actually go to trial and what the interest is in settlement.  Then, my second call is usually to my expert witnesses to gauge their availability and then finally the client. The client comes third because I have to know about the first two before talking to the client and advising on what is going to happen next.

How your client feels about trial will really really depend on them. I have had clients with prior cases who know or claim to know exactly how to testify. I have had several female clients who have been divorced and seem well aware of how the court system works and how to testify. More often than not, my older and better off clients do not see trial as a great idea for resolving cases.

The one thing that seems to get cases settled is that in Pennsylvania, lawyers are not allowed to tell a jury what we think the case is worth or what the verdict should be. There really is no way around that.  You can try to say that Joe’s medical bills are $25,000, but that will usually vastly undersell the pending offer on the case or what the insurer would pay. So, jurors are often in the dark on what a case is worth in my mind. In New York and other states, a lawyer can ask for $625,000 or $1.1 Million etc.  There are ways to put numbers in front of a jury in Pennsylvania to guide their evaluation, but these situations are not the everyday occurrence and that is a subject for another day.