In Focus with A Turk

I made my living as a trial lawyer for over thirty years.  As a trial lawyer, my job was to persuade the jury to listen to and accept my client’s version of the facts and to later apply that version of facts to the law as instructed by the trial judge.  As an advocate, my role was not to present every factual detail of the case, but rather to direct the jury’s attention to the proof which most benefited my client, and to present negative facts in the best positive light, because my opponent was definitely going to present those negative facts to the jury to defend his or her client.

Like a trial lawyer before a jury, a novelist tells readers a story.  In 2010, I retired from the practice of law and began my second career as an author writing legal fiction and courtroom drama.

After thirty years of practicing law and completing five books in the Benjamin Davis Series, I realize that the goals of a trial lawyer and author are very similar, to persuade the jury or the reader that your storyline is believable. To accomplish these goals, I found that I could and did use a very similar process.

As an attorney, often the finances of one’s client determines the methods and extent of preparation for trial. Time is money, so if one is being paid hourly, financial restrictions can directly correlate to the amount of time that can be spent getting ready for trial. A plaintiff or defendant with resources has the luxury to hire a top quality law firm such as depicted on the USA television series, Suits, formerly starring Meghan Markel, currently the Duchess of Sussex. Such a firm can retain the services of all types of consultants, including consultant’s which assist with jury selection, similar to Bull, played by Michael Weatherly in the CBS television series. Benjamin Davis in Second Degree retained such an expert because his client was a United States Senator.

Generally, the clients of Steine & Davis, like my clients, did not have these financial resources. Our clients were either small businesses or injured persons. For these clients, jury consultants were out of the question due to expense.  Instead, I would use a more primitive method.

I would post a notice “Mock jury trial, $75 for 6 hours work. Lunch, snacks, and drinks provided” in a public place such as a convenient mart/gas\ station and/or grocery store (At the time the minimum wage was less than $5). In this way, I would usually employ between 15 and 30 participants. Using other lawyers who were friends, a summary of evidence and critical documents were presented to the mock jury. The presentation would last between one and two hours and be videotaped. The participants were next divided into two groups and then placed in separate rooms where their deliberations were videotaped. A verdict form with questions was given to each juror concerning both liability and damages. The responses to these verdict forms helped in formulating our strategy for trial.

When I approached writing First Do No harm, I carried forward my experience. I gave an edited draft of the manuscript to a group of forty friends and friends of friends, some of who I didn’t know and let them read the document. I then divided the focus group into three groups with whom my editor and I met separately.  We ate and drank and the discussion groups provided constructive criticism and made suggestions. Many of their suggestions were included in the final product. I used this process when writing and completing all of my books. I am grateful for the contribution of my friends and their friends to my storytelling.