Monday, 26 October 2015

My First Civil Jury Trial: Yes while Articling!

This past September, I was fortunate enough to be offered what many articling students and even young lawyers only dream of in their first years of practice. One of the lawyers in the Ottawa office had a three-week trial coming up, and it was just my luck to be asked to assist. So only one month into my articling term, I began my participation in the wild ride that is a civil jury trial.

I'll touch on the more human elements that I found were notable throughout my experience...

The case involved a motor vehicle accident in which the plaintiff had been hit from behind by our insured. The damage to both vehicles was negligible, but the plaintiff alleged that the minor injuries she had suffered as a result of the crash had developed into chronic pain, thereby altering her life and making her unable to work. Although I could go into detail about the legal and technical aspects of the trial, instead I'll touch on the more human elements that I found notable throughout my experience...

Gloves Are Off
Although counsel for either side is 100% committed to their client’s position, it was interesting to see the interactions between lawyers when the gloves are off. Every conversation remained pleasant and respectful, without an ounce of animosity between them. These were experienced “colleagues” who understood the importance of the work, yet had no interest in creating a personal feud between themselves on the sidelines. As a lawyer, you have to make use of every advantage, but that doesn’t include treating your opponent with disrespect. These lawyers seemed to appreciate each other’s company, and I must say it made for an enjoyable three weeks.

Addressing the Court
Interactions with the judge included the usual formalities, such as the bow when he enters and leaves (something I’ve yet to master), and counsel was very respectful when they addressed the court. Yet, the judge is not necessarily a godlike authority that needs to be feared; he was a person, like everyone else in the courtroom, and it was evident that he cared about the interests of everyone involved. He listened to input from both sides before making decisions and tried to accommodate everyone with regard to the schedule. He even made a joke or two!

Interests on the Line
It struck me how much emotion is involved in a trial. For the lawyers, when you consider the endless hours of preparation and the need to be mentally focused at all times, leading a trial is, as my supervising lawyer told me, “a grind”. For the jury, they have to listen to hours of testimony and are tasked with becoming knowledgeable in everything from human anatomy to actuarial calculations. Further, they have to assess the credibility of witnesses while being steered in two opposite directions by very dedicated lawyers. Last but not least, for the parties involved, it must be extremely stressful because your interests are on the line. In this case, it must have been especially demanding for the plaintiff, who had every aspect of her life dissected in front of all, for three weeks no less.

Image courtesy of Rawich from free digital photos
Trials can be emotionally overwhelming for anyone involved, and I now understand why the courts tend to recommend that parties settle their disputes, if possible, before it gets to trial.

Despite that, it was an amazing ride and learning opportunity, and I hope to be part of other trials in the years ahead.

Alex R.