Be Prepared!

By Judge Thomas Wyatt, Chattanooga

Tom Wyatt

I could’ve named this article as I did because I was a Boy Scout. More pertinent to its purpose, however, I gave it this name because I was a trial attorney for 32 years. The motto resonates with me.

I recently did a little research about the famous Scouting motto and learned that founder Robert Baden-Powell created it to mean that you “are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.”

In the workers’ compensation realm, this “state of readiness” is critical to the success of your case, whether you are an attorney or a self-represented party. Be prepared!

Preparation, to me, takes many different forms, including:

  • Compliance with the Court’s rules, the standing order on medical records, and scheduling orders. If full compliance becomes impossible or unreasonably burdensome, preparedness includes filing a motion to bring the issue to the Court in a timely manner instead of just not complying and making an excuse for not doing so.
  • Drafting a well-crafted joint Pre-Compensation Hearing Statement, including the listing of stipulated facts. When this occurs, it accelerates my pace in preparing for trial and, later, in writing an order. It also tells me that the attorneys know their files well and the hearing will progress smoothly.
  • Preparation of a brief that is actually brief, to the point, and emphasizes pertinent facts and law, as opposed to verbose advocacy.
  • Cross-examination based on substantively important points — as opposed to questions resembling a discovery deposition or those designed to embarrass the witness.
  • Pre-identification of portions of depositions to be introduced as evidence. During a recent in-court hearing, a lawyer began leafing through a 90-page deposition as he decided what he wanted to read into the record. When his fishing expedition consumed more than five minutes, I limited him to five more minutes to read what he wanted in. A better process would have been to identify the relevant portions of the deposition prior to the hearing and designate those portions to the Court when he introduced the deposition transcript into the record. I would have read every word he designated. The lawyer was either not prepared, or he presumed I would not read what he designated. Neither explanation left the lawyer in a positive light.
  • Avoidance of redundant evidence, questioning and advocacy.
  • Sticking to important points during argument and supporting them with applicable caselaw. Don’t repeat your brief; I’ve read it. Talk about the evidence brought out at the hearing. And please, no grand-standing for the benefit of clients.

Attorneys, I’ve been in your shoes. I know handling a full caseload can challenge the mind and body. I also know that if you fall behind, it’s hard to catch up.

Still, preparation is an essential element of the ethical representation of a client. It’s a matter of courtesy, professionalism and respect for the Court, the parties and your adversary. And it’s a two-way street; I pledge to be prepared to hear your cases and to enter orders in a timely fashion.


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