Confessions of a Washington Trial Attorney l Kirkland Injury Attorney Max Meyers
You often here the phrase "Go with your gut" when faced with a difficult decision. As a young trial attorney that seems crazy, lawyers only go with what they know for a fact. Lawyers after all do not ask questions in trial that they do not know the answer to already, right!? Well at least that's the mindset. Nothing is left to chance or instinct when it comes to trial.
I generally agree with this thinking when it comes to the nuts and bolts of preparing your case for trial. However, your gut instinct can come into play along the way.
Recently I had a case going to trial. It was a dispute between two former friends over ownership of certain objects. In this particular case I was representing one of the defendants in the lawsuit. There were many ill feelings between the former friends. One side claimed the other was basically a thief while the other claimed the disputed property was given in trade for work performed.
Documents were exchanged, depositions were taken, and witnesses were interviewed. Settlement negotiations in the case had never been fruitful because of the polarized positions and hurt feelings of the parties. However, after gathering all of the facts and evidence I strongly recommended my client settle the case. My client made a small settlement offer in the days before trial but it was refused with no counter offer. Meaning we were going to trial.
Any trial attorney will tell you that preparing for a trial is a hugely time consuming and stressful endeavor. Late nights and early mornings are very common in the days leading up to trial. This case was no different in that respect, but there was something different in how I felt physically.
As I worked on my cross exam of the adverse party the night before the trial I began to feel a knot in my stomach. I knew the case would be difficult to win, I thought we had maybe a 50/50 shot depending on which witness showed up and what each of them said. I wrote it off as normal stress of the case. The next morning I woke up feeling sick to my stomach, which was not normal. Normally I have pre-trial jitters because of the adrenaline pumping in anticipation of the start. But this time it was different.
I knew I wasn't sick with the flu or anything like that, instead it was the trial. This is a difficult thing for me to admit and no attorney wants to acknowledge in the moment before walking into court on day one of trial, but my gut was telling me that we were going to lose. No question, absolutely lose.
This had never happened to me in over eleven years of trial work. The feeling did not pass and as I sat with my client outside the courtroom in the hallway. I was left with a decision. Do I tell him or not? Of course you do, I confided in my client that I felt deeply troubled that he was making the wrong choice to proceed to trial and we should make one last attempt to settle the case.
Luckily, my client trusted me as his lawyer and friend to give sound advice, which in this case was based on a very strong gut reaction. We made a last minute settlement offer and were able to work out a decent settlement literally at the front door of the courtroom minutes before the trial was to begin. I later heard the other party calling their witnesses and telling them not to come, two of which would have in all likelihood doomed my client.
Lesson learned, when your gut tells you something in such strong terms, Listen!
Max Meyers, Esq.