other attorney, and my mentor stared
at me. What a dunce. I looked at the
jury, smiled sheepishly and said, “You
know, this is my very first trial. I’m
not nearly as experienced as my op-
posing counsel. If from time to time,
I make a mistake, I apologize. Please
bear with me.”
Four days later, the jury came back
with a defense verdict.
LESSONS: 8) Jurors appreciate
humility and honesty; 9) You can’t
just focus on the presentation, you
must notice what is happening in the
courtroom; 10) It’s not whether you
might make a mistake in trial, it’s
simply a question of when you do, are
you going to be able to laugh at yourself, deal with it, and move forward?
I figured the jury would like him and
be favorably disposed because he was
not a professional witness. Wrong.
First, he forgot to bring the chart
about which he was supposed to testify. I gave him my ER 904 copies,
which he fumbled through, but he still
couldn’t find anything. When he did,
he would lose his place. The injuries
were on the left side, but he couldn’t
find any reference to left-sided injuries. He was sincere, humble, believable, but not persuasive nor authoritative. He was the only care provider
who treated my client. The pleasant
look on my face grew fixed. I couldn’t
wait to get him off the stand. I figured
out ways to deal with this “slight”
setback, mainly having different witnesses (including the defense medical examiner) read the doctor’s notes
into the record, but the case had suffered a blow.
trundled my kids down to the King
County Superior Courthouse and as
we walked from the parking lot to the
Second Avenue entrance, they whined
about the smell and marveled that the
courthouse was so “ugly.” Their favorite part was going through security.
Our case was special set and counsel argued for a good 20 minutes.
When it was over, I proudly asked my
girls what they thought. “Well,” said
my oldest, “it wasn’t too bad, but I
didn’t understand a word you said.”
“Boring,” piped in my nine-year-old.
The six-year-old was the most impressed: “You weren’t scared.”
LESSONS: 17) Our sense of self-
importance is self-imposed; 18) Our
job is just that. NWL
When I was an older lawyer, smug
in my ways, I defended a case where
the target defendant was trying to
wrongfully implead my client who
was a coworker of the injured plaintiff. “You can’t sue the coworker,” I
explained to the young defense lawyer. It’s crystal clear. Duh. The day of
the motion hearing, I arrived at 1 p.m.
ready to squish her flat. The courtroom doors were locked. I waited
and waited until a terrible thought
crossed my mind. Where was everyone? I called my office. It was at 11
a.m., not 1 p.m. I’d missed it!
I crumpled down on the bench in
the hall and tried to stop hyperventilating. Through a haze of misery, I
called my opponent. There was nothing to do but lay my soul bare. I could
tell she would have liked to lord it
over me, but since I had eaten humble
pie, she didn’t have the heart. Later, I
appealed the court’s decision, which
Division I overturned on an abuse of
Lessons: 14) You can’t control everything; 15) When things do go sideways, try not to panic or give up; 16)
Do your best and forgive yourself for
not being perfect.
I love helping victims of injustice.
One morning, I decided to bring my
three girls to court so they could
watch me in action. On the way out
the door, my 10-year-old looked at
me critically and told me my outfit
was “okay, but those shoes, Mom!” I
Karen Koehler is a partner at
Stritmatter Kessler, a plaintiffs’
personal injury law firm. She is
past president of WSAJ and a
recipient of its Trial Lawyer of the
Year award. She can be reached
LESSONS: 11) If you think you’re
invincible, you will be unpleasantly
surprised; 12) Don’t get too discouraged when you lose the skirmishes,
the thing to do is win the war; 13)
Learn how to type.
Recently in a small trial, I floated
through voir dire, I was excellent in
opening, and I presented the plaintiff,
who was wonderful. The next witness
was my client’s treating doctor. It was
his first time testifying during trial.