Picking a Trial Lawyer | Steven D. Miller, P.A.

How to pick a Trial Lawyer?

Posted in Florida Family Law on September 15, 2017

Trials should always be the court of last resort.  Statistically, most family law cases resolve without need for a trial.  Mediation, the court ordered settlement conference, is where we resolve about 95% of all contested cases:  divorce, modification, paternity.  One reason our mediation success statistics are higher than most Florida divorce lawyers is because we do not charge by the hour; as always, we charge a flat fee for trial.  Our goal is always to get our clients in and out the system as quickly and cost effectively as possible, period.  That said, sometimes cases do not get resolved at mediation.  The reasons why run the gambit from “it’s raining today and I can’t wrap my head around this while it’s raining” to “either I get the dog or no deal.”  When that happens, off to trial you go.  If so, you’re going to need a guy, a trial lawyer guy.  The trick is to make sure you get the right guy.

What happens at trial?

In a nutshell, trial is the opportunity for you to present your case to the judge who, after reviewing all the evidence (witnesses, documents, experts) will make the final decision about what to do with your case, whatever the issues:  who gets the gun collection, whether alimony gets awarded and how much time will each parent get with the kids.  Generally, property issues are very simple for the court.  Unless there is a reason to do something else, the judge will stick the property and debts in a pile and equally divide them; not much mystery about division of property.  Yes, there are circumstances that warrant a different result but not many.

Not Every Lawyer is a Trial Lawyer

Every lawyer licensed to practice in Florida can go to trial but are they a “Trial Lawyer?”  A lawyer that knows how to present facts – good or bad – in the light most favorable to their client? Has your lawyer developed a game plan with you, the client, about trial goals and how to achieve them?  If you are going to a hearing or trial and have not discussed the game plan with your lawyer – time to get another lawyer.  There are rules that govern trials: rules of evidence, rules of procedure. Until you get to trial and see your lawyer in action, there is no way for you to know whether he has an intimate knowledge of those rules.  Knowing the rules of the game is not enough though.  What about intangibles?  Look, family law judges are swamped with cases.  They all try to very hard to do the right thing but it’s up to the lawyers to present the evidence and the law.  The lawyers job is to give the trial judge the information they need to make an informed, legal decision about the case.

In preparing for every family law hearing or trial, I encourage clients to tell me every little detail about their case and the circumstances that make their spouse unfit to have a child overnight or why they should get alimony.  I need to know the good, the bad and the ugly.  It’s the lawyers job to take every piece of information and boil it down to the nuts and bolts – the most important facts – and present to the judge in a clear, concise and succinct manner.  Judges want to hear the relevant facts, apply the appropriate law, make a decision and move on to the next case.   How much time is necessary to do that?  Well, depends on case, number of witnesses, amount of physical evidence, judge’s trial schedule and trial skills of the other lawyer.  Most trials can be concluded in a few hours.  If you need more than a day, good luck getting it finished in one try.  It may be months before you can finish, another reason for your lawyer to know about the intangibles.

Best way to know if your lawyer is a bona fide trial lawyer – ask former clients or go watch him in action.  We have a lot of videos on our website and You Tube – Florida Divorce TV – of former clients we represented at hearing or trial.  Here’s the thing:  most family lawyers I’ve encountered are good at pushing paper, filing motions over silly stuff and wasting time trying to negotiate with the other lawyer who is good at the same things – waste of time and money.   Talk is not cheap when it comes to billable hour lawyers.  Sometimes, not often, your lawyer has to belly up to the bar and try the case.  Many are scared to death about it and will seek to avoid it at all costs – yours.  If your lawyer asks the judge to continue your trial – a pretty-good sign they do not feel real comfortable in court.

Picking the Right Trial Lawyer

Law schools do not produce trial lawyers. Rather, they teach procedure, various areas of the law and give students the ability to become a trial lawyer.  It is a skill set that takes years to develop and master.  Trial work is not for the faint of heart.  It’s grueling work, really.  You need to focus on every word and constantly monitor the proceedings while never loosing focus on trying to meet the goals set with the client.  The best trial lawyers understand courtroom dynamics (the intangibles) and how best to utilize them to their clients’ advantage.  If your lawyer looks like a deer in headlights at the prospect of going to trial – time for a new lawyer.


“When it’s time to leave, or have a hearing or trial, call Steve.”