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  • Lisa Jensen

What does it mean to "win the case?"


I will confess that I am not a big fan of TV shows about court. But a lot of people love that stuff.


In TV, seemingly every defense attorney is a rebellious, flirty jokester whose personal life is falling apart, yet they manage to land an unlikely client - and they devote constant efforts to that one client until the case is over. They usually have a couple of scenes where they start preparing the case, but end up basically throwing papers around in a fit of rage and crying/losing it until their estranged spouse gives them a pep talk and they have a sudden epiphany--immediately the show cuts straight to the middle of trial where the TV lawyer is in court, dramatically cross examining a surly witness who breaks on the stand in front of a jury, and the judge immediately starts screaming for order, then dramatically tells the client they are free to go, and everyone has a great time. All this goes down in a half hour.


The real world of court drama is not quite as fast-paced and exciting. Preparing a trial can mean many hours of document review and listening to audio interviews, consulting with experts and investigators, arranging logistics, going back and forth on negotiations, preparing and filing various motions, getting things transcribed, working up mitigation issues, preparing visual evidence, and making individual decisions about case strategy and approach that are in line with the client's wishes, among many other things.


Trial is intense and challenging, which is why many attorneys (myself included) are very proud of their trial records. I've done something like 25 jury trials, many of which were felony cases and several of which were "Three Strikes" cases. I've prepared MANY more that got dismissed or settled favorably to avoid going to trial. Trial is our greatest exercise of due process.


But what TV doesn't show you is that the people who go to trial don't get off scot-free even if they do get all the charges dismissed. Sometimes just sitting around in court during long calendars is a punishment in and of itself. Missing court even once is a big deal that can lead to an arrest warrant, but the longer a legal battle marches on, the more likely that a person is going to have personal emergencies that make it tough to appear in court at one point or another. Sometimes it comes as an unpleasant surprise that during the trial, the accused has to sit through the whole thing (some trials are days, weeks, or even months long). After getting time off work, you might show up to court and the judge apologetically tells you there are no courtrooms to try your case this week, and asks you to come back again in a few months. It's even worse when your case is in some faraway county and you're being forced to come from out of the area. A good lawyer will do what they can to reduce some of the unpleasantness of a protracted court battle, but certain inconveniences may be impossible to avoid.


Think of it like the person who drives around to several gas stations looking for the best price, and they end up spending more money burning the extra gas to drive around than they saved finding the cheapest station. Because of all the unexpected inconveniences a pending case can bring, it's a really good idea to take stock of what a "win" looks like to you, and communicate that to your lawyer early on in the case so that they can fight with your top priorities in mind. Maybe your priority is to take the case all the way to trial at all costs. Maybe you're trying to work out an outcome that doesn't hurt your job. Maybe your goal is zero jail time. Whatever it is, having a clear picture of what you want and what you're willing (or unwilling) to do to get it is key to a successful experience.

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