When people think of what lawyers do, they often they think of jury trials. A jury trial is the most dramatic part of litigation. Even when a case is resolved or settled before a jury trial, what would or could happen at the jury trial always plays an important role in the negotiations.
Many experienced attorneys believe that the most important part of a jury trial is jury selection. Not only does jury selection determine who is going to sit in judgment of a case but it is also the part of the trial where the issues in the case begin to get developed. First impressions can be lasting impressions and the jury selection process is the first time that the jury is introduced to the lawyers in the case, the judge in the case and the issues that will determine the case.
After jury selection, both sides will generally make their opening statements. The opening statement is intended to be a guide to the jury about what the evidence will be so that they can understand how the evidence that the jury will hear fits together in the context of each side’s entire case. While “argument” of the sort that is permitted in closing argument is forbidden, there is a certain amount of latitude given to attorneys so that they can explain how the case will fit together.
After the opening argument, both sides (although in some cases there can be more than two parties in a case) may call witnesses and question the witnesses that the other side has called. There are very strict rules about what questions are permissible. It is very important that a trial attorney have a solid understanding of the rules of evidence. Whether evidence or testimony should be permitted and under what circumstances can sometimes be a complicated and difficult question.
After all sides have put on the evidence in the case, both sides have an opportunity to give their closing arguments. In Texas, the side that has the burden of proof has the opportunity to go first and last. In a criminal case, that would be the prosecution and in a civil case that generally would be the plaintiff.
After both sides have made their arguments, the judge will read the jury charge to the jury. The jury charge is the law of the case which the judge gives the jury so that they can apply the facts of the case, which they determine, to the law of the case, which the judge gives the jury. After the jury receives the jury charge they are sent to the jury room to deliberate and everyone waits for their verdict.
Most trial attorneys agree that waiting for the jury verdict is the most stressful part of their job.