Co-Authors: Eileen Hunter, Molly H. Craig
Additional Contributors: Tess M. Godhardt, James B. Hood
As more and more trials involve counsel from multiple law firms, it is important to set trial teams up for success. After obtaining a defense verdict in a two-week-long trial in Orlando, with seven lawyers from five different states and two different law firms, the authors reflected on what made their trial team a “Dream Team,” from both the client and lawyer perspective.
Who Is Doing What?
One of the most important aspects to maintaining an effective multiple-law-firm team is establishing, early on, who is going to be doing what. It needs to be clear to the team, the client, and (eventually) the jury which attorney, for example, is leading the charge. It is also helpful to clearly designate a point person for talking to the client and talking to opposing counsel throughout trial. Designating an assistant or paralegal or outside vendor to handle the day-to-day logistics is essential so these tasks don’t default to senior members of the team (all too often senior women), who should be focused on the most important tasks of trial.
Having designated roles is a simple, but necessary, requirement to maintaining an effective multiple-law-firm team. To assure success, facilitate discussions early regarding the roles each member will be playing in the case, the tasks they will be taking on, and how key decisions will be escalated to the client. By clearly delineating everyone’s role from the start, each member can take ownership of their duties and become comfortable in their position on the team. Such delineation promotes teamwork and collaboration, and it communicates to the client that every item is being efficiently handled.
Establishing distinct roles will also help to prevent sidetracking and back-channeling. For example, if one individual is designated to discuss vital decisions with the client, the remaining team members can continue focusing on their tasks as the decision is being made. This also ensures the client doesn’t have multiple lawyers reaching out multiple times regarding decisions needing to be made during trials.
Prep, Prep and More Prep
Victory loves preparation. The same goes for juries, judges and clients. Preparation is a basic, but integral, part of creating a productive multiple-law-firm team. While preparation styles vary from person to person, it is important that each individual be accountable for the tasks assigned.
Regular pre-trial preparation meetings are one practical way to ensure team engagement and efficiency. The authors set weekly pre-trial Zoom meetings with the client in the weeks leading up to trial with agendas doling out assignments, checking in on outstanding items, and making key strategic decisions. Preparing early and often also establishes a level of trust and collaboration between the multiple-law-firm members.
Mock trials are also useful to help multiple-law-firm teams prepare for trial. Mocks give team members the opportunity to come together in person before trial to work through the case and build consensus.
Say What?! Communication!
Communication is essential for any trial team, but especially when lawyers from different law firms come together, and even more so if they haven’t worked together before.
Weekly video calls with the team and client to discuss the case creates a cooperative and collaborative atmosphere with a multiple-law-firm team. Additionally, having key members of the team attend pre-trial hearings in person creates a sense of camaraderie in the weeks leading up to trial.
Once trial has begun, short, focused team meetings following each trial day are essential to identify and assign nightly work projects to assure a successful next day. Building a war room or having a conference space where all members of the trial team have designated spaces and feel welcomed is also helpful for fostering communication.
But formal communication is not the only communication needed. Only engaging in calls or meetings that discuss the case, while key to effectively handling the matter, does not always establish the camaraderie the authors have found to be crucial in establishing a successful multiple-law-firm team. Informal communication is also encouraged as discussed in the last best practices.
All for One and One for All Mentality
Trial is not a sport, but a winning trial team and a winning sports team usually have one thing in common — an all for one and one for all mentality. Each law team member needs to be working toward a common goal. They have to be in the thick of it together. But this mentality does not just materialize. It has to be cultivated.
Building solidarity between the multiple-law-firm team takes informal communication and informal interactions. Having the team go out to dinner with one another before the trial or simply discussing matters unrelated to work or the case can create a conducive environment where trust and bonds can grow. And a friendly environment not only makes for a more pleasant experience overall, but it can help eliminate a number of conflicts that may otherwise occur.
Further, having a singular team mentality does not just make trial preparation smooth, it also resonates with a jury. If the law team is collegiate, organized and in it together, the jury will recognize that. The vice versa is true as well.
Building a “dream team” with lawyers across multiple firms takes structure, planning and determination on the front end — but the effort is worth it when those efforts serve the common goal of advancing the client’s best interests.
Eileen Hunter is the vice president head of global litigation and legal operations at Boston Scientific and builds and manages trial teams in litigation across the country. Jessica Benson Cox is a partner at Faegre Drinker in their product liability and mass torts practice group, who focuses her practice on the defense of pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers and other industry leaders involved in product liability litigation. Molly H. Craig is a partner at the Hood Law Firm, where she focuses on trial practice in civil litigation and the defense of catastrophic product liability, professional liability, pharmaceutical and medical device, and trusts and estates litigation. The authors would like to thank James B. Hood and Tess Godhardt for their contributions to this article, and to the Dream Team formed in Orlando that served as the basis for this commentary.
Reprinted with permission from the August 23, 2022, online edition of Corporate Counsel © 2022 ALM Global Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-256-2472 or email@example.com.