Recently, residents of Florida were threatened by another hurricane. In Florida, hurricanes are as much a part of our existence as that famous mouse in Orlando. Sooner or later, we Floridians will have to stop what we are doing and prepare, whether we like it or not, whether we have something better to do, or whether we’d rather do just about anything else. Our most recent hurricane experience was, fortunately for us (but unfortunately for many other people, whose lives were devastated by the hurricane), a nonevent because the hurricane mercifully passed by without incident. This led me to the thought that hurricanes and jury selections share something in common, at least from my perspective. Their commonality is that we can delay our preparations for only so long. There comes a time when, despite knowing with 100% certainty if the hurricane will hit us or the trial will actually begin on schedule, we have to get ready, just in case something happens. There becomes a “point of no return” when it will be too late to close the shutters for a hurricane or, for a jury selection for which my company has been retained, too late to pack a bag and leave for the city where the trial is expected to take place. How many times have we prepared for a hurricane that never made landfall near our home? Too many to count. How many times have I planned on selecting a jury, cancelling other business and personal plans in the process, only to have the case settle out of court, at the last minute, leaving me without any work to do? Too many to count. The good news, of course, is that it is far better to be prepared for a hurricane that never came or a jury selection that never happened than to be unprepared. Being unprepared for a jury selection would be professional malpractice, while being unprepared for a hurricane could be dangerous, even fatal. As far as I am concerned, it is preferable to get ready, even though there are no guarantees that an anticipated event will happen. Whether it is a jury selection in a small town on the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday or a hurricane predicted to make landfall during Labor Day weekend, I will be ready. Here’s hoping for more jury selections and no hurricanes!
I’m writing this following another hurricane non-event. A near miss – really near, less than 100 miles. We did get some wind and rain, but we were ready. We spent a full day preparing, a “wasted” Saturday effort as it turns out, and a full day resetting everything, a “wasted” Sunday. I can only say wasted in hindsight. It had to be done, and it was exhausting. But, had we not prepared, including moving plants, closing shutters and, stockpiling food, water, gasoline, etc., and the storm arrived – it would have been devastating. As Melissa points out, the failure to prepare in other ways and for other events is equally devastating. I often use an analogy with prospective clients using the world’s biggest preparer of all – the U.S. military. The military trains constantly. They prepare their weapons and their troops/airmen/sailors. Ships, tanks, and even rifles are tested, cleaned, readied. Ammunition is stockpiled. It is too late to do these things after a battle starts. We have seen some clients wait until it was almost too late to get ready for a trial – the wind was howling, and a few bullets flying. Admittedly, it might cost a little money, money which, like the hurricane preparation I mentioned, seems wasted in hindsight. But, the alternative of not having all of one’s ammunition (voir dire questions, strategies, themes, experts, exhibits and, mental preparations) at the ready, is to ask for a disaster, a malpractice claim, or both. Clients should understand the need to prepare and they should appreciate everything being done to help them get the best possible result. Procrastination is possibly a “fatal” mistake – judges have been know to unexpectedly call cases to trial and make things happen. Settling for less than the client deserves because of the lack of preparation is really inexcusable. Get ready and stay ready.