Joe, thank you for your time today. I know you trial lawyers are a busy group of folks! Can you tell us a bit about a case you’ve had where the direct examination played a winning role?
Sure — happy to. That is a great question because every case ultimately depends upon the story that is being told. I was recently working on a truck accident case that involved a traumatic brain injury and one of the big concerns we had in the case was how the jurors would react to our clients: they were Muslim, living in Newt Gingrich’s hometown. We knew that part of our job was to make the jurors feel comfortable awarding a big sum of money, and we anticipated that they may be hesitant to do that. We feared the jurors might think things like “What if the money we award ends up leaving the country to support some militant Islamic group?” We ended up doing a Direct Exam of a key witness who was the Conservator who had been appointed for our client’s financial affairs. His oversight and assurances of protecting the money and avoiding any nefarious use addressed this concern and allowed the conservative jurors to feel more comfortable. Our direct went like this: “Mr. Conservator, let’s say there might be somebody on the jury who might be concerned about what might happen with this money, like that the money might leave the country, what would you say to that?” Of course he answers, “It’s not going anywhere. I’m a red-blooded American and I’m going to protect the money and it’s going to stay right here.” So that’s an example of picking the right witnesses and asking the right questions to tell YOUR story and using a direct examination to make sure that you honor and address the needs of the jury.
How does the Trial Lawyers College train lawyers to do this?
Jurors feel a huge responsibility for what they are doing — granting money in civil cases, or freedom in criminal cases. They need to know that if they acquit somebody, they are not endangering the world. Or if they grant a large verdict, the client is worthy and the money will be well spent. TLC taught me how to put witnesses on the stand who literally act out and show the jurors what happened, so that they jurors in effect become witnesses to the event. Not just words from two different lawyers, but witnesses watching how the event unfolded and happened. It becomes real to them. TLC teaches you how to allow the jury to come to a fair and just conclusion without force-feeding it down their throat.
Why is Direct Examination an important seminar for a lawyer to attend?
Whether you have a lot of experience with the Trial Lawyers College methods or not, this seminar provides an opportunity to practice the art of one of the hardest processes in trial work: preparing and moving your story along through select witnesses through the dance of Direct Examination. This seminar will teach trial lawyers how to learn and continue to practice this incredibly challenging process. If you don’t use the TLC method, a Direct Examination literally sounds like “tell us your name, then what happened, then what happened and what happened after that and what about after that and did anything happen after that” and that’s what Direct Exams become. But at this seminar, lawyers will learn the tools to take one of the most difficult trial processes — Direct Exam – and make it come alive so that the judge and jurors actually see the event. They become witnesses to it and in that process, the development and credibility of your story multiplies. It’s interesting, it’s human, it’s really hard to cross-examine after a direct like that. Even people who are very experienced in the TLC methods need to work on this – and if you’re brand new to it, it’s an exposure to a way to take a very difficult, often times flat, very fear-generating process [in the lawyer] part of a trial and learn a whole new set of tools.
For someone who has never been to a TLC seminar or someone who has been to one Regional perhaps, what is your goal for them to walk away with?
My goal is for them to see that this TLC method is new and different and effective, and that there is another way to practice law. TLC teaches a way to practice that involves bringing all of yourself to it, all of your client to it, and it’s a way that you’re going to feel good about being a lawyer again. People go to law school and choose this particular profession to make a difference, and yet the law school education and the legal world, conspire to eventually beat out of us everything that is human. We are taught to answer the prima facie case A and B and C. It’s so cold and it’s so inhuman. What we do at every seminar of the Trial Lawyers College, and certainly at this seminar on Direct Examination, is re-inject humanity into the courtroom. I look forward to every course with TLC and this is no exception. I am excited to meet new people, see new faces, and keep up the journey of learning together! I always get as much if not more from the students than I give, it’s a rewarding experience for everyone who participates.
About Joe Fried:
Joe Fried is one of only a few lawyers in the USA who focuses almost 100% of his practice on handling truck accident cases. Based out of Atlanta Georgia, he has successfully handled cases in more than 25 states with results in excess of $300 million. In addition to serving on the faculty of the Trial Lawyers College, Joe is an officer in the Trucking Litigation Group (TLG) of the American Association of Justice, and is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable. He has received a number of awards for his work including the American Association of Justice Trucking Trial Lawyer of the Year for 2013 and 2014.