Trial Motions

Many trials present legal issues that cannot be resolved until some evidence has been presented. The most significant of these is a motion for a directed verdict (called a motion for judgment as a matter of law). Any party can make this motion, which is a request that the trial judge determine that there is only one conclusion any reasonable jury can reach. The motion is very similar to a motion for summary judgment because it allows the opposing party to present all its evidence before asking the judge to apply the law to the facts established by the evidence.

A motion for directed verdict is often a renewal of a motion for summary judgment. If so, there will be a prior decision on the motion for summary judgment that will identify those issues the judge felt presented a factual dispute. If the actual evidence is weaker than expected, the trial judge may revisit the legal questions raised in the prior motion.

The paralegal trial assistant should take meticulous notes on the factual issues involved in any anticipated motion for a directed verdict. The paralegal should have a detailed knowledge of the facts presented in the prior motion and the reasons the judge denied that motion. Evidence that has a bearing on the motion for directed verdict should be highlighted and separately summarized for use in arguing the motion. The paralegal may also be assigned the responsibility for researching and updating any memoranda prepared in support of the motion.

Other trial motions are handled in a similar manner. The trial might involve motions on the admissibility of evidence, the allowable scope of an expert's testimony, or legal arguments about the propriety of certain jury instructions or questions to the jury. In each case, the paralegal assistant should be aware of the possibility of these motions and be alert for events at trial that might affect the outcome of the motion. Although the paralegal trial assistant cannot argue these motions, the value of an accurate, organized summary of the events related to the motions can be invaluable.

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