Being a trial attorney is rewarding, fulfilling and compelling, but much less of the day to day actually takes place in front of a judge than many people might think. While there are certainly high-octane moments fighting for clients’ best interests in court, even the top trial lawyers must exhibit patience, professionalism, focus and attention to detail—all before ever stepping foot into the courtroom for a trial.
Although a large number of cases are settled prior to trial, real trial attorneys approach every case as if it will go to trial. That means they are completing investigations and discovery while simultaneously fielding inquiries, consulting with experts and communicating with colleagues.
Moving any given case forward entails motion hearings, status conferences and other procedures that require the attorney to regularly visit the court. Thus, trial attorneys often appear in front of a judge multiple times well before the trial date arrives.
In cases that do go to trial, the moment the energy and stakes really begin to escalate is when the jury panel enters. If you have ever been summoned to jury service, you can probably recall the experience of being questioned (and maybe even hoping not to be selected). The process is called voir dire (derived from the French phrase for “to speak the truth”) and is absolutely crucial for the attorneys on both sides as they each try to ensure a fair and unbiased jury.
A day in the life of a trial attorney during trial is more like what you may be picturing. These are the long and grueling, but undeniably exciting, days that some attorneys liken to game days for athletes. The preparation is similar, too. Trial attorneys usually wake up hours before dawn, for days or weeks at a time, to get ready for the expected, the unexpected and everything in between.
Compiling exhibit binders, meeting with the judge, preparing witnesses and presenting an opening statement are just a few of the highlights from day one alone. The days that follow include calling witnesses from both sides as well as presenting expert testimony, showing physical evidence and ultimately concluding with a closing argument. It can take several weeks to proceed from jury selection through closing arguments. When the jury begins to deliberate, some attorneys anxiously—almost painfully—await the verdict, while others decompress and recognize that the work is done, and the outcome is now out of their hands.
There are many unglamorous aspects of being a trial attorney, but they are all important. Both in the office and in the courtroom, trial lawyers keep each client’s best interests at heart while honoring the law. Read more on the make-or-break career lessons that attorneys only learn after law school.