How to Be an Effective Second Chair at Trial
As Plaintiff’s counsel you have to be ready to start presenting your case from day one. If your matter is proceeding with a jury, obtain a copy of the jury panel list from the sheriff at your court house. Have the file organized and ready to transport on the first day of trial. If you require televisions, projectors, screens or any other demonstrative equipment – do not rely on the Court to have it. Bring your own if you possibly can even as a backup to keep the proceeding moving smoothly.
Prepare an exhibit book in a way that makes sense to you. Exhibits are marked as either numbered or lettered by the registrar as the trial proceeds. You should ensure that you have an identical copy of the exhibit book that will be provided to the jurors. Work with senior counsel to determine what they intend to introduce as exhibits and how they like to do it. For example, in a motor vehicle accident the MVA report is often introduced as an exhibit. The dependable standard would be to have 10 copies made (one for the plaintiff, defendant, judge, registrar and six jurors). It has become more common to use computer screens and iPads for jurors, so this may be a better alternative that wastes less paper. Communicate with your senior counsel to determine their preference and be ready if things like computer screens are not working.
Prepare a schedule of witnesses that can be provided to opposing counsel and the judge – even if it is subject to change, it is a helpful guide for whether the matter is proceeding on time. Have contact information ready for witnesses in case they need to be called in a different order than you planned.
Get ready to take notes as the junior counsel. As much as possible, you should be trying to create a complete record of everything that was said in testimony. This is extremely important because at the end of the day, the lawyers can only comment in their closing arguments on things that are in evidence.
Pay attention to the reaction of the jurors or the judge in the case while taking notes. It is difficult for the senior counsel to focus on questions, answers and objections at the same time. It is very helpful for them to know what evidence is persuading the triers of fact, and what evidence they may appear skeptical of.
The most important document you can create is a complete record of what was said in Court. This will ensure your senior counsel will not make the mistake of stating a fact that is not part of the record during closing arguments. This can be embarrassing as the judge will have to instruct the jury to ignore that portion of the closing since it is not in evidence. Ideally you should be able to provide senior counsel with a complete record of what each witness said while testifying along with an exhibit book numbered in the same way the book provided to the jurors is numbered.
If your trial is before a jury, as the evidence ends the judge will provide you with the most important document they have to prepare – the judge’s charge to the jury. This document will summarize the evidence given and the law that is to be applied. It is your job to meticulously review this document and offer corrections to the judge. If the law is misstated you must bring that to the attention of the judge. As much as possible you should request that evidence favourable to your case is included in the charge.