As an insolvency litigator, most of our litigation is in bankruptcy court, where juries are rare. In fact, my first jury trial came more than 25 years into my career as a lawyer. It was a challenging time. I have never worked harder in my life. But I also learned so much, most importantly the value of teamwork.
The trial was scheduled for two weeks in Texas state court before an excellent judge – tough but fair. We flew our team – 3 lawyers and a paralegal – out to Dallas where we had rented a big house to work and live. Before our arrival, our local counsel sent a team to stock the house with trial binders, supplies, printers, computers, beverages, snacks, and whatever else we might need. We filled that house quickly. I was preparing our client for testimony in one room. Another lawyer was working with our expert in another. In the dining room, others were working on exam questions and preparing demonstratives. Another room was layered with tiny paper snippets of testimony that would be organized and used for video depo designations. There was paper everywhere in that room – on the floor, table, couch, chairs, everywhere. And there was Peter Klock, who had joined us just months earlier, presiding over the snippets, moving them around like a sleep-deprived detective mulling over an evidence board trying to solve a serial murder case. They called it the frat house.
This was an important case for an important client of ours. We had been litigating for nearly two years, and we had a difficult opposing counsel. Plus, the main client contact, the COO of the company, was a friend. So, we really wanted to win. We needed to win. It was tough, but I could not have been more proud of how our team came together. We divided the tasks for trial. One person lead voir dire, another opening and closing. We divided witnesses, direct and cross. One person handled deposition designations, another motions in limine. Like a well-oiled machine, we presented our case in a clear and cohesive fashion, with each person contributing in some way. We were honest with the jury, and they could see us working together. Our adversary also had a team of lawyers and paralegals, but the jury only heard from one lawyer. Throughout the trial, I felt ours was the better approach. And my belief was confirmed when the jury came back in our favor on every claim at issue.
Getting the right result is a great feeling. It doesn’t always work out that way, but when it does, all of the hard work and stress are overshadowed by the thrill of victory. I can recall so clearly the smile on our client’s face. And then we had an opportunity to speak with the jurors. It was amazing to hear feedback about our work. They really understood the case, they appreciated how we presented it to them, and they genuinely wanted to do the right thing. They shared what worked, what they liked, and they specifically mentioned the teamwork; they liked hearing from multiple people. Of course, we cannot point to any one thing that won the day. But close cases are won by small margins. Everything counts.
The victory was sweet, for us and our client (especially when they collected the entire judgment with fees and interest). But the most meaningful part was the teamwork. We all took ownership, we all contributed, and we all felt the joys of victory. You will never find a better team-building exercise than a lengthy trial. Though it was painful at the time, I know our team is stronger and better for it. And I know teamwork works.