America thrives on competition: we see it all around us every day in almost every profession and industry. Even small towns can attract several automobile dealerships, allowing a customer to drive and examine the prices and features of multiple car makes and models before making a decision. Retail stores offer shelf after shelf of competing products for shoppers to compare and contrast before buying. And when it comes to professionals, we see and hear advertisements in a variety of media touting the skills of dentists, attorneys, doctors, accountants, and others.
But choosing between professionals is far more complicated than comparing shirts or boxes of cereal, and a bad decision can carry grave consequences. That brings us to our question for this article: Does it really matter if your personal injury lawyer has jury trial experience?
Why Aren’t Lawyers Trying Cases?
We’ll start by noting that there are definitely fewer lawyers these days with extensive trial experience. There’s no doubt that young lawyers often find it more difficult than ever to obtain real jury trial experience. There are some important trends in American jurisprudence at play here.
First, it has always been true that the great majority of cases settle before trial, and that fact hasn’t changed. Second, it’s gotten more and more expensive to try cases. Finally, over the last 30 or more years, the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has proliferated. More cases than ever are resolved through various forms of ADR, the two most common being arbitration and mediation.
But there’s another problem. Some lawyers really aren’t interested in conducting jury trials at all, because it may be more profitable for them to settle out of court.
Unfortunately, the United States is full of lawyers who employ a business model designed to attract customers with heavy doses of advertising, hoping to settle as many cases as quickly as possible. Many times, the client never even sees or meets the lawyer in the advertisement. While the lawyers involved can make a good income, it’s unlikely that the value of each client’s individual case has been maximized.
Disadvantages of Representation by Attorneys Lacking Trial Experience
Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics notes that there are now fewer lawyers gaining experience with jury trials, and concludes that a lack of trial experience has the potential to harm clients in litigated cases. Below, we’ll highlight some of the disadvantages:
- Lack of knowledge – A lawyer without trial experience is not best equipped to advise a client on how to resolve a case, because an attorney must advise a client on whether a case should be tried, mediated, arbitrated, or resolved in another manner. Can an attorney who doesn’t try cases really make that evaluation? Plus, lawyers who don’t try cases are likely to push for other alternatives with which the attorney is more comfortable. This may not be what is best for the client.
- Proclivity for settlement – A lawyer without trial experience may be highly motivated to settle simply because a trial is outside their comfort zone or qualifications. Unfortunately, insurance companies and defense lawyers know this, and will often make smaller settlement offers when a plaintiff is not represented by experienced trial lawyers. To wit, sometimes a case must be taken to trial to obtain the greatest recovery.
- Discovery is less effective – Discovery is the backbone of preparing and evaluating a case. But a lawyer who lacks trial experience may not know what and how much to discover. This puts the plaintiff at a disadvantage for settlement and for trial.
- Inaccurate jury predictions – The ultimate value of a case should be determined, at least in part, on the amount the plaintiff’s attorney believes the plaintiff could obtain from a jury. If the defendant won’t pay that amount, then you can go to trial. But how does a lawyer with no trial experience really evaluate what a jury would do with the case?
Considerations for Choosing a Trial Lawyer
With the background and skills of a trial lawyer, you’ll simply have access to more legal action – including your day in court – which ultimately means a greater shot at your highest possible recovery. That said, it may not always be easy to get an answer about their experience, but it’s important to press them on the point.
One thing to consider is that local trial attorneys, as opposed to national firms that advertise everywhere, are in the best position to know and understand local judges, local attorneys, and local juries.
Call with Questions
If you have questions about a personal injury case, call the experienced trial lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield. We’ll provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision. And if you need attorneys that try cases and know their way around a courtroom, we’re here to help you hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions. That way, all of society will be safer.