As I write this President’s Message, I just recently completed a weeklong medical malpractice wrongful death trial. Sadly, the jury did not see the facts as my client and I had hoped, but my client was appreciative of everything we did for her to make sure she had her day in court. While I was certainly disappointed in the jury’s decision and hated having to make that phone call to my client, I respect the jury’s decision and know that I came away from that trial as a better lawyer, having learned more than I lost and better suited to serve and advocate for my clients going forwards. Upon reflection, not only has this most recent trial allowed me to reflect on the things I could or should have done differently or better, but it also reminded me how my involvement with NATA has benefited my clients and my practice.
NATA is “dedicated to the improvement of the trial practice and preservation of the jury system.” As members of a trial lawyer organization the best thing we can do for our clients, and to preserve the jury system, is to file lawsuits and advance cases to trial. With the COVID 19 pandemic in the rear-view mirror, we all have an opportunity to look at our cases and identify those that should/need to be resolved and those that should/need be tried. Whether it be a workers’ compensation, slip and fall, rear end auto or a malpractice case, trial dates force both sides to evaluate risk, and from experience we all know there is a direct correlation between the value of a case and a lawyer’s willingness and ability to file suit, conduct discovery and work the case to trial. Find those cases that should be filed, file them, work them up and go try them.
In doing so, think back on all the various NATA seminars that have focused on discovery, trial preparation, examination of witnesses, opening arguments and closing statements. If you locate a particular seminar that focused on a discovery or trial topic that interests you, and you want the materials from that seminar, contact NATA or a fellow NATA member and we will find you a copy of those seminar materials. In addition, NATA has a tremendous document bank which contains briefs, motions, complaints, and discovery on a variety of topics and all types of cases. Use NATA’s past seminars and document bank to educate and train yourself and benefit your client. Don't hesitate to reach out to your colleagues via the NATA ListServ or search an issue by subject on the NATA website. I cannot think of a single trial where I did not rely on someone or something from NATA to assist me in my preparation for and presentation at trial. If you have a question about an issue, I can assure you that another NATA member has already dealt with the same or similar issue.
One of the issues brought to NATA’s attention a few years back was the influx of what many of our members considered “low ball” offers on clear/admitted liability cases. While these cases were not necessarily big damage cases, they were/are important to our clients, and it got to the point where many of our members were settling cases for less than what they believed they were worth due to the time and costs of litigation. In response, NATA and our Legislative Committee worked with state senators and assisted in drafting and assisting in the passage of LB 912, the Expedited Civil Trial Act, which goes into effect January 1, 2022.
The purpose of the Expedited Civil Trial Act is to create a streamlined process for handling civil trials, reduce the time and cost of litigation and increase access to the courtroom for many of our clients. With the passage of the Expedited Civil Trial Act, many of our members will now have a means to decline unreasonable settlement offers, efficiently litigate cases, and obtain trial dates much sooner than in the past. This will not only benefit our clients, but it will also benefit our membership by allowing those that want to try cases to do so without unnecessary delay and excessive costs.
To educate our membership, and lawyers across Nebraska, about the Expedited Civil Trial Act, its genesis and the proposed rules implementing the Act, NATA will be sponsoring a seminar on the Act on October 13, 2021, in conjunction with the Nebraska State Bar Association Annual Meeting. Speakers at the seminar will include Prof. Emeritus John Lenich, University of Nebraska College of Law, and Janece Valentine, an Iowa lawyer and past president of the Iowa Association for Justice. Professor Lenich was involved in drafting the rules of the Act and will speak on the nuts and bolts of the Act and the proposed rules implementing the Act. Ms. Valentine will present on her experience using Iowa’s Expedited Civil Action Rule. Many thanks to Michelle Epstein for agreeing to chair this seminar and for lining up speakers who are intimately involved with the Act and how it can be useful in our practices.
On behalf of NATA, I would like to thank our Executive Director Stella Huggins, all the NATA members who are involved with the Legislative Committee and NATA PAC, the NATA members that have chaired and presented at seminars, our lobbyists, John Lindsay, Randi Scott and Don Wesely, and our faithful sponsors, Summit Structured Settlements, Global Litigation Consultants and Minnesota Lawyers Mutual. Without the efforts of these folks, NATA would not be in the position it is in to serve our members and we as trial lawyers would not be able to serve our clients in the manner that we do.
In closing, please allow me to take a moment to remind you of NATA’s upcoming events:
- NATA Board and NATA PAC Trustee Meeting, Thursday, September 23, 2021;
- NATA Annual Membership Celebration Dinner, Thursday September 23, 2021, at Happy Hollow Country Club; and
- NATA 2021 Annual Meeting & Fall Seminar, “The Value of Focus Groups: Seeing Your Case Through the Eyes of Jurors Before Trial,” Friday, September 24, 2021, at Scott Conference Center, Omaha.
I look forward to seeing you all at our upcoming events and seminars. If you have any questions or have thoughts and ideas that would be beneficial for NATA and our clients, please do not hesitate to contact me.