Lawyers and Lawsuits


What happens during a trial?

The attorneys in the case begin with opening statements. In an opening statement, the attorney attempts to establish his or her client’s basic theory of the case. Sometimes attorneys will reference upcoming evidence that the jury will hear.

After the opening statements, the plaintiff presents his or her “case in chief.” The plaintiff calls his or her witnesses—in the order that the attorney wishes—and conducts direct examinations. Direct examination of a witness consists of a series of questions designed to elicit testimony favorable to the client and the client’s theory of the case. During direct examination, the attorney is not supposed to ask leading questions, which essentially tell the witness how to answer or put words into the witness’ mouth.

However, after the plaintiff finishes with his direct examination, opposing counsel (for the defense) gets to cross-examine the witness. The cross-examination process is often more heated, as often the defense counsel and the plaintiff’s witness are on opposite sides and there can be some antagonism displayed though the judge will maintain fairly tight control in most circumstances. During the examinations, opposing counsel will often make objections to certain questions. The attorneys then argue briefly why the questioning was admissible or not and the judge will make the final decision.

After cross-examination, a party can re-call their witness for redirect examination. Attorneys often use redirect examination to rehabilitate their witness who may have not fared well during the cross examination process.

At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case-in-chief, the defense often makes a motion for a directed verdict, or immediate judgment, contending that the plaintiff did not prove their case.

If the motion for a directed verdict is granted, the case is over. If the motion is not granted, then the defense presents his case-in-chief. The defense case proceeds like the plaintiff’s case in terms of witnesses followed by direct examination, cross examination, and redirect examination.


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