Commercial litigator and SynerG member, founder, and Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Operating Officer Jason W. Graham shared this "SynerG War Story" about his first solo jury trial experience and the lessons he learned from it: My first or second year out of law school, I was assigned my first jury trial. It was a “dog bite” case. My client, a sixteen-year-old daughter of a developer client of the firm, had been viciously attacked by her neighbor’s dog. The neighbors hated each other, had been feuding for years, and my client believed that the neighbor let his dog loose to attack her and watched her being attacked without coming to her aid in deliberate indifference to her safety. The firm took the case as a “favor” for the developer client with the understanding that I would do most/all of the work at my lower hourly rate and a lot of my time would be written off in the name of "training". I was terrified of making a mistake and spent countless hours preparing for trial. I believed my client and believed in my case. I drank the proverbial “Kool-Aid” as they say. Judge Pam South, a magistrate judge then, sitting by designation, tried the case and demonstrated all of the qualities that you would hope to find in a judge. She obviously wanted to be fair, follow the law, and inject common sense into civil litigation, which often lacks the same. The jury came back with a verdict of $2,500 – five times the special damages and ten percent of the attorneys’ fees. I was heartbroken and crushed, thinking I had lost my first case. I interviewed some of the jurors afterward and they thought they had handed me a huge victory. Several of them said that $2,500 was likely a lot of money for a sixteen-year-old girl and remarked that insurance had probably paid her medical bills. I did not tell Judge South, or opposing counsel, that it had been my first trial until after the verdict. They both complimented my professionalism, advocacy, and ability to connect with the jury and expressed surprise that it was my first trial. I learned a lot of lessons from my first trial, including but not limited to:
- (i) never drink the Kool-Aid;
- (ii) always “over prepare”;
- (iii) you rarely get attorneys’ fees and punitive damages except in really bad cases involving big companies;
- (iv) always interview the jury after a trial;
- (v) try as many cases as possible;
- (vi) "winning" means different things to different people;
- (vii) don’t be afraid to reality test clients and aggressively advocate settlement when appropriate.