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.

LegalSpeak: Texas Statute—Blind Jurors

62.104. Disqualification for Legal Blindness

(a) A person who is legally blind is not disqualified to serve as a juror in a civil case solely because of his legal blindness except as provided by this section.

(b) A legally blind person is disqualified to serve as a juror in a civil case if, in the opinion of the court, his blindness renders him unfit to serve as a juror in that particular case.

(c) In this section, "legally blind" means having:

(1) no more than 20/200 of visual acuity in the better eye with correcting lenses; or

(2) visual acuity greater than 20/200, but with a limitation in the field of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees.

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.

What are expert witnesses?

Expert witnesses are those who have specialized knowledge in a particular field from education or personal experience that qualifies them to answer opinion questions.

Examples of expert witnesses are those who testify on accident reconstruction, ballistics, casino security, traffic engineering, and vocational rehabilitation. In some cases— such as medical malpractice—a person alleging negligence must come forward with expert proof that the medical provided failed to adhere to the proper standard of care.

What are briefs?

Briefs are one of the great misnomers in our legal system. The saying goes that "only a lawyer could write a 50-page document and call it a brief." Lawyers—particularly appellate lawyers—have to file a brief, explaining the legal arguments and explaining why the court should rule in their client's favor. Most courts have very specific rules on the length and style of briefs.

What are jury instructions?

One of the most important aspects of a case are when the judge instructs the jury. The judge reads a long document created by the judge with input from attorneys on each side that explains the various legal concepts in the case, the jurors' obligations and other issues.

The judge will have a standard jury instructions form for a particular type of case (auto accident case) but then will ask the attorneys if they want to submit proposed jury instructions. The judge then decides whether to accept the attorney's proposed jury instructions.

What are closing arguments?

Closing arguments are the last statements or speeches made by the attorneys to the jury before the jury goes back to deliberate. Closing arguments enable the attorney to sum up the evidence and make a last persuasive appeal to the jury.

If a party loses, what are his or her legal options?

A litigant can petition the court for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, asking the judge to find that the jury's

The closing argument is when an attorney makes his last arguments before the jury deliberates on the case (iStock).

The closing argument is when an attorney makes his last arguments before the jury deliberates on the case (iStock).

verdict clearly was against the weight of the evidence. A litigant can also petition the court for a new trial.

Realistically, the only option may be to appeal the verdict to a higher court. Appellate courts often deal mainly with questions of law but can also overrule a lower court if there is a clear factual error. Many legal errors are reviewed de novo, meaning that the higher court will give a fresh view to those issues.

Often a client will keep the same lawyer, but sometimes the client may want to hire an attorney who specializes in appellate advocacy—the art of arguing before appellate courts.

Why is legal language sometimes hard to understand?

The reason is that many lawyers still use much legal jargon, called legalese. Since the mid-1980s there has been a push among some in the legal profession for the so-called "Plain English" movement, which would attempt to make more legal product (statutes, judicial opinions, legal forms, etc.) more accessible and readable to the general public. The movement still has work to do to accomplish its goal.

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