One of the first things an accident victim should ask their lawyer is: “How many cases have you tried?”

Why should you ask this question?

There are three important reasons you should consider hiring a Southern California personal injury lawyer that has trial experience. This blog post will explore these three important questions in more detail.

Reason #1: Increases Settlement Value

The first reason you should hire a lawyer with trial experience is that an experienced trial lawyer increases settlement value. There are countless personal injury lawyers. Some advertise their services on the radio, television, and or billboards.

But of all the attorneys who practice personal injury law or advertise their services, few have considerable trial experience. Why does trial experience matter? As former insurance defense attorneys, we know that one of the first things an insurance company researches after receiving an injury claim is the trial experience of the lawyer. Claims adjusters recognize that lawyers with extensive trial experience are not afraid to go to court if the insurance company fails to make a fair settlement offer.

Trial lawyers are not intimidated into accepting a low settlement offer. Insurance companies tend to provide small settlement offers to lawyers with little or no trial experience because companies know these lawyers are unwilling to go to trial and are more apt to settle for less than total case value to avoid trial.

There are many ways a lawyer’s trial experience can be checked. There are databases that keep track of jury verdicts. One popular database is LexisNexis, which provides access to jury verdicts. Insurance adjusters can research attorneys to see the number and types of cases they have tried to a jury.

Also, those with extensive trial experience belong to the American Board of Trial Advocates (“ABOTA”). Founded in 1958, ABOTA is a national association of experienced trial lawyers. ABOTA is an invitation-only organization. Lawyers are invited to become a member. The primary qualification is trial experience. Adjusters and the public can check the California ABOTA website to see if the lawyer belongs to this elite organization.

Reason #2: Get a Proper Evaluation of Your Case

The second reason to hire a trial lawyer is to get a proper evaluation of your case. Clients typically have two choices when it comes to resolving their case. They can either accept a settlement offer or go to trial. Clients commonly ask, should I settle or go to court? Trial lawyers are uniquely qualified to answer that question because they understand the risks of trial and the factors that influence jury verdicts. For example, the location where the parties will try the case is important. There are many courthouses throughout Southern California.

For example, there are courts in Pasadena, Van Nuys, Santa Monica, and downtown Los Angeles, to name a few. Each courthouse summons different kinds of jurors. Some geographical locations have more conservative thinking jurors, while others have more liberal thinking jurors. The size of a jury verdict often depends on a jury’s thinking. Conservative jurors tend to give more conservative awards, and liberal thinking jurors can provide more significant damages awards. An experienced trial lawyer knows how each area can affect the outcome of a case.

Also, trial lawyers recognize the importance of the trial judge assigned to preside over the case. The outcome of every case depends on the evidence. Judges make important decisions about the admissibility of evidence. For example, they have to decide if the evidence is relevant or not. Some judges admit everything and allow the jury to determine the evidence’s relevance and significance.

Other judges scrutinize the evidence and act as gatekeepers to keep out irrelevant or unduly prejudicial evidence. Knowing a judge’s tendencies is essential because a good case can be ruined by the admissibility of harmful evidence that should not have been admitted.

The outcome of every case depends on the admissibility and strength of the evidence. Lawyers without trial experience can make the mistake of over-valuing a case erroneously, believing a jury will be persuaded by a compelling piece of evidence when in reality, the evidence is inadmissible, and a jury will never see it. A lawyer’s misevaluation of the admissibility of the evidence or how a jury will view the evidence can have devastating consequences, including losing the case.

Also, it is not uncommon for a lawyer with little trial experience to hire an experienced trial lawyer as the case gets closer to trial. The problem with that approach is that the client’s case can get messed up before the attorney hires the trial lawyer. Every case has a discovery process where the victim’s lawyer seeks information from the defense using depositions or document requests. Often, the defense has information that can hurt its position and tries not to disclose it.

A skillful lawyer seeks that evidence to defeat the defense’s position on liability and damages. An inexperienced lawyer sometimes does not know what information to pursue or how to get it. It is too late to obtain the information when the trial lawyer is hired closer to trial. Thus, evidence that the client’s attorney could have used to defeat a defense claim is never known.

Reason #3: Maximize Damages at Trial

The third reason to hire a trial lawyer is to maximize damages at trial. Trials often turn on the credibility of the witnesses, especially expert witnesses. Before trial, each side gets to designate the experts they intend to call at trial. Insurance companies typically have a stable of expert witnesses that they commonly use to win cases or minimize damages. Some of these experts are effective, and others are not.

Trial lawyers usually know the experts employed by the insurance company and have seen the expert testify in court. A trial lawyer is often in the best position to know if the expert witness has the potential of helping or hurting a client’s case.

Insurance companies typically hire defense lawyers with trial experience. Many of these lawyers are very good, know their way around a courtroom, and know tactics to minimize damages. Therefore, the car crash victim must have a trial lawyer who also knows their way around a courtroom. In every trial, both sides get an opportunity to talk to prospective jurors during jury selection. Effective questioning can disclose biases and prejudices that could adversely affect the outcome of a case. A seasoned trial lawyer will know how to ask the right questions to get a jury to decide the case fairly.

Lawyers typically deliver opening statements before the evidence is presented. The statement outlines the issues and evidence that the jury will consider. Many studies show that jurors often make up their minds about a case after opening statement. The client must have a lawyer who can deliver a compelling opening statement that persuades a jury.

A trial lawyer typically presents different types of evidence at trial, including testimony from witnesses and the introduction of records called documentary evidence. An experienced trial lawyer will know what evidence to submit to a jury. A lawyer must know and follow specific rules of evidence to get evidence admitted. A trial lawyer knows the rules and how to get the evidence admitted.

Also, persuasively presenting the evidence to a jury is an art. A lawyer needs to know how to guide witnesses through examination. The lawyer must also know how to effectively cross-exam the defense witnesses to expose bias and otherwise undercut their testimony. Trial judges commonly allow lawyers to use “props” or other things to illustrate a particular point at trial.

A skillful trial lawyer understands the kinds and types of props to illustrate a point.
The defense uses many strategies to defeat cases or minimize damages. For example, sometimes victims suffer severe injuries in a collision where there is not a lot of visible damage to the cars. A common defense tactic is to show photographs of the vehicles and argue that it is unlikely someone was injured in the crash.

Also, many accident victims are surgical candidates because they suffered a severe injury to their spine or the impact aggravated a pre-existing spine condition. It is not uncommon for those who need surgery to delay a procedure. The defense commonly argues that a victim who has not had surgery means either the injury was not that bad or surgery is unnecessary. An experienced trial lawyer knows arguments to defeat these defense tactics so that the victim gets the compensation they deserve.

In sum, there is no substitute for trial experience. Every accident victim should ask about the attorney’s trial experience before hiring that lawyer when seeking legal representation.