Thursday, April 9, 2015

So Ill

I think I'm mostly writing this post so it will seem real to me.  I'm still kind of in a state of disbelief, but I think, unless something unexpected happens, I am going to trial for the first time in my life.  And this is going to happen on MONDAY!!!! 

There is a slight chance something will happen today (or technically tomorrow, but today is more likely, at the final pretrial conference) that something will happen to continue it, but as of right now, Thursday morning at my desk, all systems are go. 

I've been a lawyer for about 15 years.

The first half of that was at a big law firm doing securities litigation defense.  I only worked on a few cases (Enron took more than half a decade), and none of them went to trial.  And even if they had gone to trial, it would not have been me trying the case.  It actually likely wouldn't have even been a senior partner in our very large office -- it would have been an appellate specialist from DC who would be able to tailor the arguments to prepare for a possible loss and a certain appeal. 

Then I was at a small firm.  A handful of cases went to trial in the years I worked there (on average about 1.5 per year?).  I never went to trial.  I'd do the pre-trial work, but the partner at the firm was the one who actually tried the cases.

And now I'm at my current job where I basically manage risk.  My entire goal is kind of avoiding trial.  If there is any liability for something that happens, I try to settle that case for a reasonable amount.  And what is a "reasonable" amount is subject to change simply because as you get closer and closer to trial, that "crazy jury" risk gets more real. 

The more I read about more whacked out awards, the more nervous it makes me.  Who are these people that would award millions for a few broken ribs and a bruised ego?  Or BILLIONS for burns (albeit severe burns, but billions?)?  How does someone who is fully healed from a slip and fall with medical bills under $50,000 get an award for over $500,000 (without any punitives!)? 

But it now appears that for the first time ever, one of my cases is going to trial.  And that's happening on Monday.  For the record, I'm not trying this case (or any other), I'm managing outside counsel, so I guess it's marginally less scary than going to trial as a lawyer, but it still makes me insanely nervous.  We've tried to settle this case for a reasonable amount, and we've tried to settle this case for MORE than a reasonable amount.  But the other side is living in a different universe.  I told someone that I can't even say we're not in the same ballpark because here, I might be in one ballpark, but the other side is at a spa in a volcano -- not even playing a sport, let alone in the same sport and a different ballpark!  Totally unreasonable (at least in my mind).  So trial it is. 

I've barely slept for the last few days, pretty much ever since I realized that in all likelihood, this is probably going to happen.  And when I do sleep, I'm having all kinds of crazy dreams about this case (Monday night, I dreamt that the final pre-trial was going to be on Tuesday, and defense counsel had told me it was on Thursday, and so defense counsel failed to appear at the final pre-trial so the case was decided against us.  Of course, that dream scared me awake and forced me to log on to the federal court dockets to check the date of the final pretrial and confirm that defense counsel was indeed correct, it is set for today.) 

I feel okay about it objectively.  The facts seem pretty good.  The attorney we've hired to defend seems to be doing a pretty good job, though I don't have a lot of experience with him.  The venue is likely okay.  So what could go wrong? 

Uhhh, we lose and they award ten BILLION dollars!!!

Haha, okay.  But realistically, what could go wrong?

Uhh, yeah, juries can be totally insane in civil cases sometimes, so we could lose and they COULD award ten BILLION dollars. 

I guess that pretty much sums up why I'm insanely nervous about this. 

It's kind of fitting that I'll be in federal court in the district for So(uthern) Ill(inois), since I'll be feeling "so ill" when I'm there...

The up-side is that I will likely get to spend an afternoon with my aunt and uncle who live near St. Louis, since I think I'm going to fly up Sunday morning. 

So, if you're one of those people who is okay with adding random and not entirely significant things to prayers, or if you could just send some positive energy my way, I'd appreciate it.  But more importantly, please send "reasonable" vibes toward this still unknown to me jury!  (And of course if you're ever on a jury, be reasonable!; public service announcement.) 


  1. Wow! First, I had no idea that most cases never go to trial. I think I assumed all cases go to trial! Second, I had no idea that lawyers don't want cases to go to trial. I guess I figured that's the glamorous/fun part, thanks to TV I guess. So I learned something new! Having said that, I can feel your nerves through this post! I will definitely send positive thoughts your way. Any idea how long the trial would last?

    1. Just found out it's off! Continued until the end of June. We were guessing it would be 4 days. I think the stats are something like 1% go to trial. In my mind, the best is when it gets dismissed by the court on the motions. If that doesn't happen, then usually there's some liability issue, and it's more likely to be settled. Trial is definitely rare (and expensive).

  2. Oh geez! Nerve-wracking! I will be thinking of you.

    1. Thanks, but you can save the good thoughts. Just found out the setting got continued so I'm off the hook!!