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DTCI: A lesson not learned in law school

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freybergerI appreciate my law school education. I was given the tools I would need to analyze and apply the law to a given set of facts. I had been brainwashed by lawyer shows on television and in movies to think that I had to be smooth. I relished the thought of catching my opponent in a mistake and slamming the trap at the perfect time, while the jury watched and nodded with approval. Then I started the practice of law. It is “the practice of law” for a reason, and I quickly learned what I consider to be the most important lesson for trial work.

Trial lawyers come in all shapes and sizes. Moreover, the different styles of trying a case to a judge or jury are even more diverse. Although we abide by the same sets of trial rules, statutory law and precedential case law, how we handle and argue from them varies greatly from one lawyer to the next. Trial work is intellectual mixed martial arts in that respect, where a boxer may wage battle against a wrestler.

What’s important about this is that, despite the differences in style, none are right or wrong. The efficacy of your style is dependent upon the jury, not your opponent. And I submit to you that your style is just as effective as anyone else’s, irrespective of the fact finder. This is something I did not learn in law school.

A partner of mine named Chris Lee served two tours of duty with the United States Army. When he tries a case, he is concise and pointed. He doesn’t waste words and saves objections for when they count. His “high and tight” haircut gives him away. He never has to inform the jury about his military service – it is easily identifiable by the manner in which he handles himself in court. In contrast, I’ve never been in the Army. I would never be confused with Chris. I use relaxed humor in the courtroom, where he uses laser-guided precision.

I worked closely with Chris before and between his tours of duty. When he was deployed, I tried to replicate his trial style. I cut my hair, sharpened my points and checked my lighthearted humor at the courtroom door. What I discovered was fairly traumatic: the same points being made by me didn’t have the same effect on the jury as they did when delivered by Major Lee. I learned that I am not, and will never be, Captain America. I am thankful it only took a few cases for this to sink in. After some mental healing, I began trying cases in my own style. The result was a more comfortable and more successful trial experience.

Those first few trial losses also taught me that I am neither better nor worse a trial lawyer than my opponent, no matter how many years of experience he has. This was a fact that was hard for me to internalize. Up to then, I assumed that everyone else knew the answers to the questions still rattling around in my head. It was then pointed out to me that both lawyers in a dispute operate from the same facts and the same law. It is a comforting thought.

I’ve been practicing law for only 10 years. I’m hardly what one would call a wily veteran. However, I’ve been given the opportunity to try more cases than most lawyers my age … mostly because of Major Lee’s military service. I only wish I would have found the comfort of trying the first few cases in my own skin rather than feeling the pressure of wearing someone else’s.•

__________

Gregory Freyberger is a partner in the Evansville firm of Kahn Dees Donovan & Kahn and is on the board of directors of DTCI. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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  1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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