Big props to Scoplaw, who just won two jury trials in two days. Also congrats to MissTyrios, who just picked up her first outright win in a jury trial. The feeling is one I know not, but I do know it must be sweet!
Reading Scoplaw’s brief accounts of an office where 61 cases are set for trial (on the same day!?) and trials appear to be happening on a regular and daily basis â€” it really makes me question where I am and what I’m doing. My job is nothing like that. I might have 1-4 trials set on a single day, and none of them will go. That happens at least once each month, and in some months it happens once every week. But almost nothing goes to trial here; even in misdemeanor land, only the very rare case goes to trial. In felony land, our entire office of 9 felony attorneys will probably do less than two dozen trials the entire year. Meanwhile, our approximately 6 misdemeanor attorneys might do a few dozen jury trials and I have no clue how many bench trials. But of the thousands of cases that go through our office each year, that’s nothing. For a huge number of reasons, this just doesn’t seem to be a place where people go to trial.
And so while Scoplaw and others1 spend their first years as PDs getting massive amounts2 of trials under their belts (and building their confidence by collecting wins at least now and then), I’m spending my first years arguing felony probation violations, negotiating plea agreements, and honing my skills making sentencing arguments. Of course, these are vitally important skills, and these are services my clients require; however, who wants to be the pleading and sentencing attorney? And it’s one thing to become very good at these things over a career while at the same time learning to be a good trial lawyer. It’s another thing entirely if after a few years of practice you’re still no better at trials than when you started b/c you simply have done so few of them.
I know it’s not that simple. I’ve learned and continue to learn many many things in addition to how to negotiate plea agreements and make sentencing arguments. I’ve taken a handful of cases to the eve of trial, with all the preparation that entails, and each time I have learned a great deal about investigation, preparing cross and direct examinations, choosing, writing, and arguing jury instructions, writing motions in limine, etc. But there’s no substitute for actually going to trial if you ever hope to be good at it. And I do hope to be good at it. So what to do??
If you’re a PD and you’ve read this far, please tell me: How often do you go to trial in a year? Do you work mostly felony or misdemeanor cases? Inquiring minds want to know!
- Audacity goes to trial (& wins) a lot, too. Frolics and Detours seemed to do a good number of trials (and win), but has not posted for months now. Ipse Dixit goes to trial, too. It goes on…. ↩
- “Massive amounts” might be an exaggeration; I really can’t tell, but it seems like they’re doing more trials than I am.↩