By Ken Levine
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?”.
“Yes, we have your honor””
“Please hand the verdict form to the Clerk.:
This is it. The verdict is in. In a moment the Judge will read the verdict from the bench, and I will know if the trial has been won or lost. The seconds tick like hours. My associate wishes me good luck. I turn to my clients and try to give them a reassuring smile, but they don’t notice. They are too scared to do anything but look down at their feet. I watch the judge read the jury form hoping for some clue. Has he read all the pages? How long did it take to read each page? Did the judge linger on the last page where the jury would set out the dollar amount if we won? I study the judges face, is there some clue, some reaction that hints at what the verdict is? I look at the jury face by face. Most won’t make any eye contact; they look like prisoners who cannot wait to be released. I think of all the cases where I was sure I lost because of the jury’s body language only to receive a huge verdict in my favor and be swarmed by the jurors after. I also think of cases where a juror or two smiled at me as the verdict form was read only to hear that I lost the case. This jury plays the game well and gives me no sense of their decision.
The judge tells everyone to sit and begins to read…In the Matter of…Question One, was the defendant negligent in the care and treatment of the minor child…., YES!!!!!!!!!!. Question Two, was the negligence the proximate cause of the child’s injuries…..YES!!!!!.
I exhale, we have won the case. Now the judge turns to page three of the verdict form where the jury has decided the amount of the verdict. I hear the word “million”, but it doesn’t matter. We won the case and that is what is most important. The money always takes care of itself. I turn to my clients and see Mom and Dad both crying. They move toward me and give me a big hug. This is the best moment, after a win. All the hard work has paid off. All the late hours in the office and days and nights away from home in a Holiday Inn. The ups and downs during the years working toward the trial and the trial itself. The sleepless nights, the doubt. It has all lead to a victory.
The child and family will be taken care. I can’t reverse the injury but at least the child will have a head start in life. My firm will get a good legal fee, which is always nice.
I walk over to the bench and shake hands with the clerk. She tells me I am a good lawyer and tried the case very well. The trial is over but there might be post-trial motions, so the judge gets up to leave the bench with little emotion. Before he goes, he does congratulate me and the family but no more. I talk to some of the jurors for a bit. The family is with me. The jurors are all very nice and complimentary of my work. I feel like a rock star meeting my fans after a show The mood is light, not befitting the terrible injury the child suffered, but that is not the focus now. The jury is happy they could help the child, that they tried to make things right for the child and family.
The family and I linger in the courtroom for a while. None of us want this feeling to end. During this time my associates have been packing up the trial boxes and checking on the first flight home. Our clothes and suitcases are already in the car, and we have checked out of the hotel so we can go directly to the airport. The car ride to the airport with my associates is full of joy. We will get back to the other cases in the office tomorrow, but for today we are going to enjoy the win. At the airport I call my wife and tell her the good news. She is happy for the family and more so happy that after three weeks away I am coming home. She knows how hard to is to win and tells me how proud she is of me.
I fall asleep as soon as the plane takes off. The emotion of the trial, the hotel, the late nights and early mornings, the intensity of every moment all catches up with me and I am out like a light. With the victory in my pocket, I sleep soundly.
This story is the best of times, the happiest but we did not win every case. There were cases when the jury answered “no” to the question of negligence and we lost. In those cases, as the judge read the verdict and I heard the word “no” I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. For a moment it was hard to breath. All the hard work and effort for nothing. The child gets nothing, my firm gets no legal fee and the $100,000 my firm invested into the case is gone. I turn to my clients, and they are crying, but these are not tears of joy, they are tears of sadness. My clients never believed they could lose. No matter how many times we told them juries can be tough and unpredictable, they always believed they would win the case. They ask me if we can do anything else. Can we appeal. I tell them I will look into it, but I know there is little if any chance to overturn the jury verdict. I know the case is over, but I don’t have the heart to take away that last drop of hope right now.
I look over and see the jurors laughing and joking with the doctor and defense lawyer. It hard to watch but these are the rules of the game. I want to see it, face the disappointment, hate the feeling of losing so I can use it as motivation for my other cases. This time when I go to shake the clerk’s hand, she looks down, wishes me well and tells me I did well but that juries are tough to predict. The judge congratulates the doctor, offers me safe travels home and leaves the bench.
Unlike when I have won the case, now I cannot get out of the courtroom fast enough. I just want to get to the airport and get home. At the airport I step away from my associates and call my wife. She is sad to hear we have lost but tries her best to lift my spirits. She tells me win or lose she is proud of me and that I will get back on the horse and win the next one. As always, she is my rock and greatest supporter. I could never do this work without her.
I still sleep in the plane home. The emotion of the case, win or lose is the same. The hotel, the late nights and early mornings and the intensity are all the same. This sleep is just exhaustion though and not restful. My mind cannot leave the case. What did I do wrong, what happened that caused the loss, what did I miss, what did I do wrong? My mind races 100 miles an hour as my eyes close.
The trial lawyer’s world is a roller-coaster. You win some, you lose some. Hopefully the wins add up to more than the loses. You go into the breach with everything you have, every ounce of preparation, every drop of energy. It all comes down to that moment when you hear if you have won or lost. It’s like playing a basketball or football game without a score until the very end when you find if you have won or lost. Also, different than professional sports, in the trial lawyer’s arena you only get a legal fee if you win. Imagine if it was that way in sports, can you imagine how hard the athletes would prepare and play, how intense the games would be.
No wonder, win or lose, that I was exhausted at the end of the case. Now, it’s time to recharge and go back to court. The next case is waiting.