A civil trial lawyer is an attorney who will try your civil action. Put another way, a civil action is most any type of case that is not a criminal case. Civil cases are in the areas of personal injury, contract disputes, family law, probate & estates, domestic violence restraining order and domestic violence civil lawsuits among many other areas of law.
Our office represents clients scheduled for trial in any number of areas of civil law.
We are often brought in by other lawyers who either want Paul Nathan to handle the trial, or have him assist with the trial.
Mr. Nathan has tried breach of contract cases, brain injury personal injury, dental malpractice, medical malpractice, family law, and domestic violence cases. As well, Mr. Nathan has been retained as trial counsel on various types of personal injury, contract and business disputes, probate and trust cases among many others.
However, cases often settle shortly after Mr. Nathan’s joining the case as co-counsel.
Do not hesitate to contact our office whether you are a lawyer looking for co-counsel, trial counsel or a client wanting to explore whether you’d like Mr. Nathan on your trial team.
Mr. Nathan will provide a complimentary case review and tell you if you ought to try your case, settle your case, or pursue another avenue of resolution.
What is a civil trial?
A civil trial involves a legal dispute between two or more parties. The Plaintiff files a lawsuit against the defendant over a dispute. The trial is where either a judge or jury determines who was at fault or not at fault and how much and what should be done, if anything, to compensate the Plaintiff for any injuries – not only physical injuries but injuries include loss of money due to a contract dispute, enforcement of a contract when one side has not complied with their end of the agreement, inheritance and who ought to receive the to be inherited money and/or property, loss of income, loss of potential future income be it a person or small business, disputes over costs, pain and suffering among many other areas and injuries.
The civil trial is where the judge or jury determines what should be done next. Does the defendant need to do something i.e., pay money, perform, etc.… or does has the Plaintiff not met his/her/its burden to show that the defendant did anything wrong.
Every case, no matter the area of law, is about a story. The party that is able to convey its version of events better generally wins. It sounds easy but it is difficult to really learn and tell the story. The emotions and impact of the story of an attorney’s client must be shared with the judge or jury.
Even when it is a contract dispute, there is a story. For example, many lawyers think the parties’ emotions in a contract dispute are not important because you often are not allowed to recover pain and suffering in these cases.
We are all people. The judge and jury are people. They have emotions. And, the more you can show them your client’s emotions, whether you are an individual or a small business, the more connected others will want to help you and your client (judge or jury) in recovering or keeping the plaintiff from recovering, depending on what side you are on.
Finding an experienced lawyer who cares and will take the time to discover the story can be difficult. That is what we do. We make the case about more than just the law. Rather, Paul Nathan learns the story through a variety of specialized techniques working with his clients and, therefore, is able to tell the story.
Preparation – the most important ingredient for winning?
In short, it all starts with preparation. The party who is best prepared can tell the best story knowing and living with the facts resulting in that party usually winning.
Preparation and learning the story are a must in any case. For example, many lawyers do not want to represent a plaintiff in a soft tissue personal injury case or defamation case because it is difficult to show damages in those matters. That is all the more reason to learn the story and be prepared for these issues. That way, the lawyer can show the judge or jury the result of the injuries so they can truly understand what your client has experienced and been forced to live with.
Paul Nathan handles every aspect of the case, spending time researching, visiting the scene of the dispute whether it be an intersection, hospital, or small business. He learns his client’s fears related to the lawsuit, what a win or loss means to his client, and understands everything that happened so he can take the judge and/or jury to the place of the dispute. The result is Paul Nathan can tell a descriptive story recreating scenes for the judge and/or jury.
As a result of the necessary preparation, our office only handles 1-2 active cases at once. This is to provide the time to dedicate to the case.
Civil Case Process
The lawsuit begins when the plaintiff files a lawsuit. The lawsuit should explain to the defendant and court why the plaintiff is suing the defendant and what the plaintiff intends to seek as damages.
Then, the defendant answers the lawsuit with a number of denials and defenses. The parties engage in discovery (written questions and answers as well as oral discovery via depositions). This is to allow the parties to learn more about each other’s positions in the case like defenses, the basis for allegations, etc.…
All the while, good judges will encourage the parties to engage in the settlement process.
However, the parties sometimes cannot come to an agreement and it appears the only resolution in the case will come from a judge and/or jury.
That is when Paul Nathan is usually retained. He will come into the case and begin preparing for trial.
For example, we had a case recently involving a brain injury. The defendant offered $5,000 before trial. Our client had suffered a permanent brain injury. Obviously, the parties could not agree on what the plaintiff’s damages were worth with the defense arguing the plaintiff did not suffer any injuries.
As a result, the case proceeded to trial with Paul receiving an award for his client of $15.8 million.
Another time, Paul was brought onto a case where the parties, to small businesses, were suing each other while both were being sued. None of the parties were willing to pay each other the money they wanted. Whereas Paul’s client did not want money but rather to be dismissed from the lawsuit. In short, Plaintiff and other Defendant dismissed Paul’s client “to keep him out of the courtroom.”
Sometimes, disputes can only be resolved at trial
Trial is scary. Arguably the greatest trial lawyer in history, Gerry Spence, said as much when discussing what it is like to start a trial for him. He is incredibly nervous but tells himself, “My nervousness [at the start of trial] reminds me that I am alive because I would not be nervous if I was dead.” Trial is scary not only for the client but for the lawyer as well because it is unpredictable. Will the jury like you? Will the judge like you? Will you be able to impactfully tell your story? Will the jury laugh at you? Will you need to live with not recovering for your client or keeping the other side from bankrupting your client?
If you are a client and your attorney tells you they are not nervous to try your case, that lawyer is either lying to him/herself, is psychotic, or incompetent. Trial is scary.
The Trial Process
The actual trial is where, by applying rules of evidence, the judge determines which information may be presented in the courtroom. So that witnesses speak from their own knowledge and do not change their story based on what they hear another witness say, they are kept out of the courtroom until they testify. A court reporter keeps a record of the trial proceedings, and a deputy clerk of court keeps a record of each person who testifies and any documents, photographs, or other items introduced into evidence. The opposing attorney may object if a question it invites the witness to say something that is not based on the witness’s personal knowledge, is unfairly prejudicial, or is irrelevant to the case. Generally, the judge either overrules or sustains – allows – the objection. If the objection is sustained, the witness does not answer the question, and the attorney must move on to his next question. The court reporter records the objections so that a court of appeals can review the arguments later if necessary.
Voir Dire if a jury trial and Opening Statement
Voir Dire is the Latin term still used today for the process of the attorneys picking the jury. However, your case may be in front of a judge. If so, the first time the attorney speaks to the judge is in opening statement. Studies have shown between 90-95% of the time the finder of fact, whether it be a judge or jury, has made up their minds on who will win the case in the first 5 minutes of hearing from the lawyers.
That said, most lawyers ask the jurors if they can be fair. Will anyone admit they cannot be fair? You’ll need someone who can talk to the jury on a deeper level than asking general questions that do not give you any information.
A big part of Paul Nathan’s preparation is developing voire dire and opening to tell his client’s side of the story most effectively. Not doing so is a travesty.
In bench trials, many lawyers make the mistake of not thoroughly preparing the case because they believe that is not required because the judge will make the decision. A judge is still a person and you must be prepared to show the story to the judge.
Resolving cases before trial
Oftentimes, Paul is brought onto a case where the parties are entrenched in their positions and settlement appears to be hopeless. Magically, the other party wants to discuss a reasonable settlement when the trial is approaching and knowing Paul Nathan is on your side.
You must be ready for trial in order to receive the best settlement offer the other side has. Otherwise, your opponent will never take you seriously.
A mistake many lawyers make is their opponent lulling them into complacency by saying this case will settle. The other side’s attorney just needs more time. Again, you must be prepared for trial regardless of what anyone tells you.
Sounds easy. You just tell the judge or jury what happened and what you need to be compensated for your loss.
That is great if you do not want to recover much and only, maybe, win in principle. In contrast, if you want to win a large amount you’ll need to learn the case and be prepared. Understand why your client is affected by the injuries suffered, whether it be an individual, family/small business. Do not assume that the judge or jury will see it your way with a vague showing of your damages.
Do not assume that damages are so obvious that a greater explanation is not required. Be prepared to show your damages to the judge or jury so they can relate to what your client has gone through.
What role does the attorney play in the case?
The attorney is the advocate who has the responsibility to thoroughly learn your case, to understand you, what happened to lead to the dispute and be prepared to effectively show your side of events effectively to a judge or jury. In sum, the attorney must be prepared, spend ample time with your case, and be prepared to go to war for you.