Friday, March 21, 2008

Fun with Lawyers!

Last weekend I did an acting gig for a large international law firm. My job was to portray 2 different characters, one on Friday, one on Sat. in mock trials. The firm was running a training session, and trying the same case with real lawyers, jurors, and actors as the witnesses. They were trying the same case in 8 different trials. It turned out to be great fun and quite interesting.

The case revolved around a lawsuit by a company that had suffered substantial termite damage, which their insurance company ( I have no idea if this was ever a real case, but I doubt it). My job was to portray an expert in termites in one of the trials on Friday, and the agent who sold the insurance policy for a different group of lawyers and jury on Saturday. Several weeks before the mock trials, I was sent a 200 page book with all the information.

I have never testified in a trial, so this was very interesting to me. The first thing I learned is that you have to meet with the lawyers before you testify to get straight what they will ask and what you will answer (you never see this part on TV). This was particularly important for the termite expert, as his testimony was vital to the company's case. When I got there, the lawyer I was working with has prepared me to say a bunch of stuff that I didn't think I could say based on the info I had received. She also had completely missed another point that she should be asking me about, to discredit another witness. I actually ended up giving her advice about this, which she followed. She also prepared me for what to expect during cross-examination.

The scary part was the cross-examination, where I knew it was the other lawyer's job to grill me. Before I went in, there were a bunch of actors in the waiting area, enjoying free drinks and snacks (actors love free food!) who were playing the same part. One guy had chosen not to wear a suit jacket, which I pointed out was a mistake because the cross-exam was sure to cause big sweaty pit stains

After cross exam, there is “re-direct”, where your side asks questions to “rehabilitate” anything they might have got you on. I was also then re-cross-examined, and this is where I had the most fun. The opposition lawyer was determined to discredit me by getting me to say something to contradict myself. He asked the same question 2 different ways, and I gave him the same beautiful answer both times, not what he wanted to hear. Finally, he started to get nasty, and started another attempt to ask the same question with “perhaps you don't understand my question...” at which time my lawyer objected. So he said “no more questions” and sat down. To me, that means I won!

Here is the other interesting thing: Reading the facts of the case, it appeared obvious to me that the plaintive's case was bull. I said this to both sets of lawyers I worked with, and one who had been through this before said I was right, but the plaintive usually wins because they are suing an insurance company, and everyone hates insurance companies. Sure enough, it turns out the plaintive won 7 out of the 8 trials. One jury even awarded MORE than the plaintive was asking for!

So, now I know more about termites than most Coloradans, and a bit more about our legal system. My only regret is that I didn't get paid the $2000 per day the termite expert billed the client.

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