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How to prepare for trial

No matter where your legal career is headed there’s a good chance that, at some point, you’ll have to prepare for a trial. It can be challenging, as it’s often a lengthy process and you’ll need to successfully navigate many legal complexities. Below, we explore some of the most important aspects of preparing for court and the skills you’ll need for successful trial preparation.

By Grant Longstaff. Published 29 May 2024.

What is trial preparation?

Trial preparation refers to all of the activity carried out by legal professionals before they present their case in court. As part of the trial preparation process you could be involved in collating evidence, obtaining witness statements, identifying expert witnesses, ensuring witnesses will attend court, and drafting and reviewing legal documents. It also requires the development of robust legal arguments and discussing strategies for responding to the potential challenges you may be presented with during the trial itself.

Who is involved in trial preparation?

Trial preparation is a team effort, involving a number of legal experts, and the work you carry out will depend on your chosen career. Solicitors often act as the primary contact for clients, manage the case file, and work closely with the barristers who usually take the lead in presenting the case in court. Paralegals often take a support role in trial preparation, drafting and managing documentation, carrying out legal research, and helping liaise between clients and professionals.

The responsibilities you’re required to undertake will differ from firm to firm and case to case and will often be far more extensive than what is outlined here. It’ll take time to fully understand your role, as well as your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to trial preparation. However, the collaborative nature of building a strong legal case means you’ll be provided with opportunities to ask for support, develop your skills, and learn from experts.

Choosing to study law will also grant you with opportunities to begin honing the many skills you’ll need for trial preparation, and taking part in a moot court, or mooting competitions, is an excellent way to gain feedback on your development and courtroom readiness.

What to do leading up to a trial

Secure your witnesses

Witnesses can play a crucial role in court, so you’ll need to identify those who best support the case. You’ll use a variety of witnesses. Eyewitnesses can provide firsthand accounts and testimony, character witnesses can help add context and expand on facts and events and expert witnesses can bring authority to an argument or evidence. No matter their purpose, you’ll need to establish how your witnesses can help shape your argument and work with them ahead of the trial to help prepare them for court.

Familiarise yourself with the judge

You’ll know ahead of the trial who will be presiding over the case, and this provides an opportunity to learn more about the judge. Examine other trials they’ve been involved with and ask how their previous rulings could impact your case. How is their demeanour in court? Can you see any patterns in their decisions? Better understanding the judge could help when it comes to developing a courtroom strategy.

Gather and table the evidence

Evidence is a fundamental part of a trial and comes in many formats including physical or digital evidence, documentation, testimonies, video, audio and much more. First of all you’ll need to consider what evidence you want to use. How authentic is the evidence? Is it reliable? Will it make a significant impact to your case? Once you’ve done this you’ll need to create a detailed inventory, ensure its admissible in court, and plan how to effectively present it at trial.

Consider technology

Legal tech can dramatically help when it comes to trial preparation. It could be used for everything from the organisation of case documents or evidence, to enabling a witness to give their evidence remotely. It can also be used to create visual aids which can help bring evidence to life and help add context, for example a digital image could support a complex description of an injury and reinforce evidence for a jury.

Build your story or narrative

The importance of a strong narrative shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to preparing for trial. You’ll need to present the story of your case in a clear and linear fashion, using both your evidence and the law to strengthen your arguments. Remember, the stronger your narrative is, the easier it’ll be for those in court to follow and connect with.

Trial road map

A trial road map simply outlines the order of events in court and can help you and your team operate more effectively during proceedings. From opening statements and presentation of evidence, to witness statements, cross examination, and final arguments, it’s important to know who is responsible at every stage. A clear understanding of your role, as well as others, should also leave you primed to address any last minute changes or tackle any curveballs thrown your way. 

Witness depositions and statements

Witness statements, and in rarer cases depositions, are taken before trial. These can form part of your body of evidence and will help provide a broader picture of a case. It’s also worth examining these for any potential gaps or inconsistencies which could be challenged in court so you’re better prepared to face them if they come.

Opening and closing statements

Opening and closing statements are key moments in a trial as this is the first and last opportunity you, or your colleagues, have to address the court. An opening statement is used to outline the facts and evidence, the narrative you’ll present and the legal aspects of your case. The closing statement is a consolidation of your case. You’ll reflect on the facts and evidence you’ve presented, the story it tells and the legal ramifications of it. Creating strong opening and closing statements isn’t easy, but with practice and guidance you’ll learn how to craft powerful and compelling arguments.

Preparing for trial can be gruelling and demanding, however it can also be extremely rewarding. You’ll have access to firsthand experience, gain an extensive insight into the legal world and – with practise and time – you’ll master court case preparation and become a formidable force in the courtroom.

 

Ready to deepen your understanding of the legal process and enhance your trial preparation skills? Enrol in The University of Law’s comprehensive law degree course today.