jury trial

As you know, in this column I examine how individual solo and small-firm lawyers are using new technologies in their day-to-day practices. Hopefully, my columns will encourage and help other lawyers to do the same.

In today’s column you will meet Mitch Jackson, a California personal injury attorney, and will learn how he uses the wearable technology Google Glass in his law firm. Mitch founded his law firm, Jackson & Wilson, Inc., with his wife in 1988. Since then they’ve dedicated their practice to representing victims of personal injury and wrongful death.

It’s entirely possible that you’ve already heard of Mitch. Whether on Twitter, LinkedInFacebook, or YouTube, he has an incredibly strong social media presence. Most recently, part of his online focus has been on his use of Google Glass in his law practice. So of course he immediately came to mind when I conceived of the idea for the column. I knew I had to reach out to Mitch and explore how he uses Google Glass in his practice — and whether the technology is actually useful or whether it’s too nascent to be particularly helpful for lawyers.

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The first question people usually ask me when they find out I am a lawyer is: “What kind of lawyer are you?” My response is usually: “I am a story teller.” A good deal of my practice involves helping lawyers tell stories, because no juror ever said, “Well… I’m not really sure that I understand the plaintiff’s point of view completely. Let’s give him $10 million.” I usually advocate for the cyborg approach: part human and part machine. I think you can tell an effective story without a computer, but from my experience, jurors are a reflective part of the population that consciously moved out of the radio era and into CGI-laden-movies era.

I use neat hardware (sometimes cheap hardware), I use neat software, and I almost always use a whole lot of custom graphics. Talking about how to make a great graphic is almost impossible. Most of the good ones are good for unique reasons. Most of the bad ones are bad because they fall into a few general categories. Here are a couple of those categories:

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The justice system in California suffered a complete meltdown yesterday, and an alleged career criminal who should be in jail is now in the morgue.

Here’s what happened: Bobby Lee Pearson was on trial for burglary in a Fresno County court. The jury was deadlocked. I’ve written before about how our jury system is probably the worst system possible, aside from all the other ones that have been tried.

If the jurors had told Judge W. Kent Hamlin they were deadlocked, he would have declared a mistrial. But there’s no “box” on the verdict form for no verdict, you have to actually tell the judge. This, evidently, confused the s**t out of 12 souls in Fresno. Instead of telling the judge, leaving the form blank, or simply asking for help, the jurors did the dumbest and laziest thing possible, and filled in “not guilty”on the verdict form.

Hamlin read the verdict, and released Pearson. Only later did jurors inform him that they had no freaking idea what they were doing. But it was too late for Pearson.

Continue Reading on Above the Law Redline…


A jury trial: “the grand bulwark of our liberties.” Cross-examination: “the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.” I remember these quotes (from Blackstone and Wigmore, respectively) uttered grandly during Evidence or some such class in law school.

Just guessing these maxims aren’t entirely reflective of everyone’s experience. A particularly discouraging example, after the jump….

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Wouldn’t it be great if you could just hang out in the venire assembly room and observe all the potential jurors? You could make note of conversations they have, what they’re wearing, books they’re reading, and generally get a head start on the opposition when it comes to evaluating preemptive strikes. If your firm hired a jury consultant, they could get a jump on working out the psychological profiles of the potential jurors.

That’s probably why courts don’t let lawyers hang out in the venire room.

But that didn’t stop one partner from sending his associate on a fact-finding mission against the court’s express rules. And now the whole Biglaw defense team faces a motion from a cranky adversary….

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Mathew Martoma

This afternoon, here in Manhattan, a jury found former SAC Capital portfolio manager Mathew Martoma guilty of insider trading. The verdict wasn’t a shock, given the strong evidence against Martoma and the fact that another former SAC trader, Michael Steinberg, got convicted in December on weaker evidence.

The trial involved a number of boldface names of the legal profession. The office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara (S.D.N.Y.), one of our 2013 Lawyer of the Year nominees, was represented by assistant U.S. attorney Arlo Devlin-Brown, one of the office’s most prominent prosecutors (and a star of the college debate circuit, for those of you who used to do debate). Martoma was defended by a team from Goodwin Procter that included Richard Strassberg, an S.D.N.Y. alumnus, and Roberto Braceras, another former federal prosecutor — and the son-in-law of Judge José Cabranes. The prosecution’s lead witness, Dr. Sidney Gilman, was represented by Bracewell & Giuliani’s Marc L. Mukasey — son of former S.D.N.Y. judge and U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

And some of our readers might know Mathew Martoma. He was a student at Harvard Law School back in the 90s, before he got expelled for fabricating his transcript while applying for clerkships.

Here are some notable numbers relating to the Mathew Martoma mess:

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If every jury heard cases like this, it would almost be worth it to blow a week sitting on a trial. Speaking of blowing, a 61-year-old man allegedly tried to get some gentle cows to show him a good time back in September. I say “tried” because apparently the cows didn’t go for either the carrot or stick and rejected the man’s overtures.

Shut down in the barnyard, eh? Talk about failing to find love in a hopeless place.

Anyway, getting jilted by a cow was only the beginning of his alleged real-life game of FarmVille, and the man’s trial has provided non-stop entertainment for the jury as everything from the testimony to the judge’s instructions have elicited laughter from the jury box.

Bow Chick(en) Bow Wow!

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Does anyone really like insurance companies? The answer is, of course, no. Sure, some people tolerate their carriers, but no one really likes them.

Probably because they do things like send lawyers to watch trials and creep out the jury.

That’s the charge in this case, where the judge called the observing lawyer to the stand to confront him over the jury’s concern that he was “stalking” them.

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Words are like bullets.

There’s a great episode of 30 Rock where Twofer (the black character who went to Harvard) gets offended when Tracy Morgan (the black character who did not go to Harvard) says “the n-word” to him, colloquially, as black people allegedly say to each other based on movies and music. Twofer threatens to sue Tracy Morgan for workplace harassment, while Tracy argues that it’s okay for black people to use the word. Then there’s a great, great scene where Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and Tracy Morgan try to get Twofer to say the word too.

It doesn’t go well. He says it, Morgan threatens to punch him, and Fey says, “It just sounds so hateful coming from you.” The scene pretty much explains why I personally don’t use the word. I don’t say it around white people, I don’t say it to other black people, I don’t use it when I’m getting a haircut, and I don’t use it around the dinner table with my family at Thanksgiving. It’s not a word that I can “pull off” (I can pull it off in writing when I use it ironically, I think), and I’m totally okay with that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who sees intense hypocrisy in the fact that some black people can and do pull it off while no white person (outside of Louie C.K. and maybe Bill Maher) is allowed to try. White people got a 400-year head start in the New World, and black people can deploy an extra noun when listening to Jay-Z. There are greater tragedies.

But the N-word is not a “professional” word, and I don’t think it should be used in that context. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white or from whatever racist planet Rush Limbaugh is from. At the point where you are using the n-word to talk to your employees, you need to help yourself to a thesaurus.

Apparently, there’s a jury of my peers who agrees with me…

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Yeah, yeah: That title caught your eye.

I thought about titling this column “Litigation Aphorisms,” but who the heck would have read it?

So I went instead with the first of three critical things you should know about litigation, all of which I learned from Neil Falconer when I practiced at the 20-lawyer firm of Steinhart & Falconer in San Francisco back in the 1980s. (I also dedicated The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Neil. He wasn’t a “mentor”; he just accidentally taught young lawyers by osmosis what it meant to be a lawyer.)

Neil’s first aphorism was this: “Never tell a small child not to stick peanuts up his nose.”

Why does that matter?

Or maybe I should start with a more basic question: What the heck does that mean?

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