Yesterday, I finished a nine-week legal malpractice trial receiving an 8-figure verdict. The judge, before whom I tried the case taught me an important lesson concerning experts when the defense attorney sought to tie the hands of one of my experts.
Near the end of my case, I am arranging exhibits and demonstratives I intend to use with my valuation expert. He is the lynch pin of the damage verdict I obtained against an attorney who ruined a business that was the first to the American market with an organic tequila. My expert has prepared valuation figures for the business to establish the harms and losses the malpractice caused. My opponent is a wily old strategist who over almost 45 years has established not only a formidable reputation for winning impossible cases, but an almost perfect 155 and 3 trial record.
Defendant’s Attack on My Expert
Before the court room attendant ushers the jury into the courtroom, my opponent rises and argues that my expert, who will deliver the big damage testimony for me, should not be allowed to testify because “There is no factual basis to support the opinion.”
I respond, “Your honor, my opponent is mistaken. The expert has spoken with an officer of the company he has identified as a comparable business. He obtained the information confirming the assumptions he made and testified to during his deposition.”
The attack on this most important witness begins when the defense attorney seeks to prevent his reference to the information from the company officer.
The judge asks, “On what basis do you think I should exclude the testimony of the expert?”
From man’s earliest times, telling stories has been how we entertained each other late at night around the fire, communicated the joy of the hunt, and shared the pain of loss. As trial attorneys, we are the inheritors of the tradition of story.
Rather than sitting around a campfire, weaving tales late into the night to enthrall our friends, we now stand in the killing pit we call a courtroom and talk to twelve silent, supposedly non-responsive members of the public who are there to do their civic duty.
I fear that by and large, we as lawyers do not value the persuasive power of story. I have seen lawyers in trial say,
“This case concerns a two-car motor vehicle accident that occurred on December 13, 2000, at the corner of Bristol Drive and Anton Parkway in Costa Mesa, California. The Plaintiff was the sole occupant of her vehicle that was at rest awaiting a red light at said intersection. Defendant’s vehicle failed to stop and struck Plaintiff’s vehicle from the rear.”
Can you hear the snores? Imagine how much worse it would be if that attorney was giving the opening statement in a partnership dissolution case, or an easement dispute, or a trust litigation.
Attorneys’ stock in trade is story. If that is our tool, shouldn’t we know what a story is? Shouldn’t we know how to create a story? Aren’t we like the director of a movie painting word pictures with scenery, characters, conflict, drama, and resolution? Until we think of ourselves like that, we will never fully understand how to present compelling trials for our clients. Continue reading “Stories: Campfires and Courtrooms”