Written by Roy Black
I have a confession to make: some of my best ideas have come from clients. This shouldn’t be a shock since who knows the case better than the client? Yet lawyers seem to overlook this potentially wonderful asset. I classify it as potential because not every client can or wants to fully cooperate with their legal team. It is hard work telling the story over and over again, then subjecting it to searching analysis and after all that, undergoing tough cross-examination. It can be tiresome and depressing but it is our best resource and the rewards are great. Let me give you some examples.
I was representing a doctor charged with issuing illegal prescriptions. These types of cases are very fact-driven. The doctor must establish a good faith basis for issuing the prescription. The standard for issuing a prescription is that it must be in the usual practice of medicine for a legitimate purpose. I spent several weeks full time with the client going through his medical records on each of twenty patients who were named in the indictment. We had to go line by line over his handwritten notes. It was tedious and time consuming but a gold mine. There was no shortcut. It had to be done. Only after all that could we figure out what details had to be brought out to substantiate each diagnosis and treatment.
Did it help? After my opening statement the government claimed I was using documents not produced in discovery. I told them I obtained the records from them. They yelled and screamed convincing the court it wasn’t true. I had to demonstrate to the court that each statement I made came right out of the medical records seized by the FBI and turned over to us in discovery. I gave the court highlighted pages right from the discovery. The government said – oh, I guess it is there. And I cross-examined the government’s medical expert for three days hitting him again and again with details in the records he was unaware of. Without the client I never could have fully grasped these details.
Another example. I wrote an earlier note on the folder method of cross-examination. I developed this method over a substantial period of time. It started with a client named Daniel Neal Heller. He was the best known divorce lawyer in south florida and I defended him in a tax prosecution. It extended over two trials and several appeals before the case was ultimately dismissed. I cross-examined the IRS case agent for six and a half days. Needless to say this was hard work. Each night Heller and I would plot out the next day’s cross. We wrote down categories first on a white board then on legal pads and brainstormed questions and impeachment. We then searched for material to back them up. The final product was great but disorganized so I came up with the folders. Heller made me do it!
At our firm we tell all the clients we want them to be a fully integrated part of the legal team and to work with us on the trial strategy. And we mean it.