How to Thrive in (and Not Just Survive) a Lengthy Trial
We are delighted to welcome our latest Guest Blogger, Olena Gavrilova to discuss her strategies for success when it comes to thriving (and not just surviving) a lengthy trial.
I recently had the privilege of second chairing on a lengthy civil trial in Vancouver Supreme Court with a well-respected partner at my firm with whom I’ve wanted to work for some time. As a 7-year associate, I’ve certainly been in trial before, but this one took over 2 months to complete and was by far the most complex trial I’ve been involved in. We were in Court for 37 days in total and during a pandemic, no less.
While I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else, I did learn a few difficult lessons during the trial, in both my professional and personal lives. Hopefully sharing some tips and tricks I wish I had implemented before and during this trial will help those of you who are a bit more junior say “yes” to those plum (but daunting) trial opportunities. While some of the below tips may seem obvious, my hope is that they will help you not just survive, but thrive, during your next long trial.
1. Say “yes” to exciting new projects even if you are concerned about how they may impact the rest of your practice.
When I agreed to junior on this trial, I had 3 other trials in my calendar during the same time. I made contingency plans with other associates at my firm to cover those trials in the event that those files did not settle. Ultimately, all 3 settled well in advance and I was able to second chair on the lengthy trial with a partner. As such, I was very glad that I hadn’t turned down an amazing opportunity only because my own calendar at the time couldn’t accommodate it. It goes without saying that balance and planning are key here so that you do not overextend yourself and end up not being able to follow through on your commitments.
2. Formulate a solid plan with your team before the trial starts.
Formulate this plan so your other work is under control during the trial (as much as possible) and so that your team knows how to deal with fires that may arise while you’re in Court.
3. Manage the expectations of your clients on other files ahead of time and during the trial.
Set “out of office replies” as needed but do respond to those clients who can’t wait. Taking a few minutes at the end of a day in Court to call and say that you’re in trial but aware of the urgency of the issue and will deal with it as soon as you can goes a long way. Most clients will be more understanding than you might expect, particularly if you make the effort to update them personally.
4. Set boundaries in your personal life to prevent disappointment and disruption.
This is an especially important point for people who are more social. Your family and non-lawyer friends will not necessarily understand why you’ve stopped returning their calls and messages, so it’s important to explain to them ahead of time that you may be unavailable for a period of time. You can set up plans with them after the trial is over to give them (and yourself) something to look forward to!
5. Try to approach a long trial like a marathon rather than a sprint.
With shorter trials, it’s perfectly okay to live at the office and burn the midnight oil if it’s only for 5 or 10 days. With long trials like this, that is a recipe for burnout. Take breaks when possible, prioritize spending time with your family, exercise or squeeze in a walk when you can, go for a coffee with a friend to vent. These moments, however brief, will keep you sane and will motivate you to keep going when you get tired. The partner I was in trial with implemented a “no work on Fridays after Court” policy and it gave us both the opportunity to go home and spend that precious time with our spouses before going back to work on Saturday.
6. Be kind to yourself and understand that it’s inevitable that some things are going to get pushed to the back burner until your trial is finished.
It is impossible to juggle everything effectively during a trial like this and you shouldn’t hold yourself to an impossible standard. Ask for help at the office and at home when you need it. Understand that, although it may feel like everything in your practice always requires urgent attention, in reality this is not the case. It’s okay to prioritize your trial over other, less urgent assignments.
7. Lastly, try to live in the moment.
Although being in trial is stressful (that’s just the nature of the beast) it’s also fairly rare for many of us. So soak up the experience, learn from other, more senior lawyers with whom you are in trial, and try to enjoy the ride. You are there to provide value to your client but also to learn and grow as a lawyer.
I hope you find these tips useful. At the end of the day, there is no perfect way to get through any trial, and, as you do more of them you’ll develop your own strategies and coping mechanisms. I’ve found that booking a getaway or having something fun to look forward to at the end of the trial works especially well for me. So, while I’m still catching up on all the work that built up while I was in trial almost 2 months ago, I also took a week off soon after the trial finished to spend time with my family, go for long walks and sleep. It made all the difference when I came back to work rejuvenated and ready to face the backlog. Good luck with your next long trial!
About the Author
Olena Gavrilova is an Associate at QA Law in Vancouver and has practiced law in B.C. since 2013. Olena practices almost exclusively in insurance defence litigation. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family, gardening, travelling and reading. She is active in the legal community and is on the Executive of the B.C. Women Lawyers Forum.