Trial advocacy is both an art and a science, and the skills required to successfully practice it come with experience—although many attorneys stop honing those skills when they focus on other specialties after graduating from law school. To help fellow attorneys rehearse and evolve their courtroom strategies, personal injury lawyer Andrew Finkelstein joined forces in June 2020 with the faculty at The Trial School to deliver the online presentation Virtual Voir Dire and Focus Group Program. The online seminar orients members on the Trial School’s innovative approach to education through live, simulated courtroom scenarios.
Finkelstein, managing partner of Jacoby & Meyers, LLP, is a noted consumer activist and accomplished litigator and also an advocate of continuing legal education. His dedication to both litigation and teaching has helped his firm consistently achieve seven- and eight-figure verdicts and settlements for clients throughout his career. Through the Trial School, Finkelstein can share this knowledge with lawyers around the country.
What Is Trial Advocacy?
When a layperson considers the daily work of an attorney, they likely think of cross-examining witnesses, making impassioned speeches to rapt juries, and shouting “Objection!” to defend their clients. No doubt this is the product of decades of legal dramas on TV and suspenseful films set in courtrooms—and perhaps some of those very same films and TV shows first inspired budding attorneys to enter the field.
The reality may not only be less dramatic but, depending on an attorney’s chosen specialty, might not include jury trials or courtroom theatrics at all, or only rarely. For some attorneys, mock trials and competitions in law school may be the last time they participate in this dynamic and often exciting part of the profession.
In law school, this area of scholarship is known as trial advocacy—the study of how to maximize one’s effectiveness in trial proceedings. The basic elements of trial advocacy are tactical skills, which break down the individual components of a lawyer’s duties during trial.
Tactical skills include:
- Voir dire – Also known as jury selection, when the attorneys speak with a larger pool of jurors to winnow them down to a favorable panel for the trial.
- Opening statement – An overview of the attorney’s argument and plan for the trial, indicative of their overall legal strategy.
- Direct examination – Asking questions and seeking statements from witnesses called to testify by the attorney in question.
- Cross-examination – Questioning witnesses called by the opposing attorney, who may prove unfavorable or even uncooperative.
- Closing argument – The summary argument on behalf of the client, which incorporates the proceeding evidence and testimony to implore the jury to find in their favor.
The cohesive approach to the organization of these individual tactical skills in a trial setting forms the overall legal strategy. Beyond basic legal strategies, more advanced strategies depend both on the style and philosophy of the lawyer in question as well as the demands of a specific case.
The Trial School
The Trial School is a unique online trial advocacy program specific to the plaintiff’s side. Trial School membership is exclusive to lawyers who represent individuals against companies or responsible parties.
Attorney Rich Newsome founded the school when he teamed up with a group of some of the top plaintiff’s lawyers in the country, whose combined cases have yielded hundreds of millions of dollars for their clients. Newsome himself is one of country’s leading product liability trial lawyers, and his most prominent cases, including the Ford/Firestone litigation and Honda Takata airbag recall, have yielded some of the largest verdicts in American history.
Newsome and his colleagues seek to foster collaboration between lawyers across the country to synthesize and contrast ever-evolving trial advocacy methods for cases ranging from medical malpractice, car crash, slip-and-fall, and even mass tort pharmaceutical cases. Their goal is to serve as a laboratory for the country’s top trial lawyers as well as help attorneys who haven’t had recent trial experience organize their strategies through practical templates and group-sourced methods and tools.
While many trial advocacy programs focus around a specific method or approach, The Trial School dedicates itself to forming a unified curriculum based on diverse perspectives. As Mike Papantonio, senior partner at Levin Papantonio, explains on behalf of the Trial School, “There’s simply no exclusive, one way to try a lawsuit. It’s virtually impossible to look at developing trial skills in a one-size-fits-all kind of manner…. There’s no one way to obtain the extraordinary results achieved by the lawyers teaching in the Trial School.”
The Virtual Voir Dire and Focus Group Program Presentation
Andrew Finkelstein’s June 2020 presentation, the Virtual Voir Dire and Focus Group Program, drew on his years of courtroom experience to explain how Trial School members can use this innovative new program to refine their voir dire skills, test cases through virtual focus groups, and practice opening and closing statements as well as direct and cross examinations.
The Trial School’s Virtual Voir Dire and Focus Group Program allows attorneys to refine individual tactical skills as well as explore new ways to apply them to legal strategies. Not only are the attorneys exposed to these new ideas, they can test them out directly in mock-trials and other scenarios free of charge (plus costs to pay for mock jurors). It’s a hands-on approach that bridges the gap between theory and practice. It’s also a natural fit for Finkelstein, who throughout his career has combined litigation and education.
Andrew Finkelstein’s History of Litigation and Education
Andrew Finkelstein believes the only way to perfect the personal art of advocacy is to practice it. He also believes in continuing education for lawyers to study their craft and incorporate new and diverse strategies. He has spent significant time studying the psychology of decision-making and how it applies in courtroom scenarios.
Finkelstein routinely conducts practice sessions with the lawyers in his own firm to test messages through focus groups and work on individual tactical skills. The goal ensures that, once in a courtroom, lawyers thoughtfully construct and effectively employ all of their messages and strategies. His dedication to both litigation and teaching has helped his firm consistently achieve seven- and eight-figure verdicts for clients throughout his career. Through the Trial School, his years of experience are now available not just to clients, but to fellow litigators as well.
Finkelstein is a New York-based personal injury lawyer and a graduate of Syracuse University and Brooklyn Law School. In his time serving pro bono as captain of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, he and his firm secured more than $10 million for victims, which earned him an honor by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. He’s also a frequent lecturer at the Finkelstein & Partners Center for Continuing Legal Education and a professor at the renowned Keenan Trial Lawyer College.
Trial Lawyer Magazine named Finkelstein one of America’s 100 Most Influential Trial Lawyers—twice, in successive years (2014, 2015). He served in 2013 on the Executive Committee of National Trial Lawyers, and in addition to being a member of the New York State Bar Association and the Orange County Bar Association is also a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association and the National Safety Council. He has personally handled dozens of multi-million-dollar cases and overseen many more successes in his firm.
Some of Jacoby & Meyers, LLP’s most notable accomplishments include:
- A $34,000,000 Philadelphia jury verdict against drug company Pfizer for a client who claimed her prolonged use of two of their products led to her developing breast cancer.
- A $5,700,000 jury verdict for a runaway school bus that resulted in a tragic death.
- A $3,770,000 verdict for a construction worker injured in a fall from a roof in Poughkeepsie whose employer was found to have failed to provide proper safety precautions.
- A $1,600,000 jury verdict in a dog-bite case in which the victim, a child, suffered massive facial injuries and scars.
Finkelstein is proud to join his many distinguished colleagues who serve as faculty and presenters for the Trial School. He was inspired to participate by the Trial School’s mission to educate lawyers without a profit motive, and to further his mission of exploring and broadening ideas within the profession.
To learn more about the Trial School, whose membership is limited to lawyers who represent individuals rather than companies or corporations, visit their website. There you can find an updated list of their latest seminars and interactive educational programs.