One of the most important and difficult parts of a lawyer’s job is what senior trial counsel Keith Mitnik calls “the dignity of damages.”
In one of his most-listened to podcast episodes, Keith gets to the heart of all that is right about money damages.
“Asking for money on behalf of your client is a hard thing,” Keith says. “And you want those people sitting in that jury to like you. And you’re afraid – that after fighting valiantly about why this defendant is wrong and why it’s unfair for them to blame your client – you’re afraid that they are going to think less of you when you start talking about the money.”
Keith admits that when he was a younger lawyer he also had this feeling. But then he learned that this doubt would show to the jury.
“If there is one droplet of doubt anywhere on your body, tongue, mind, down to your toes, that jury will feel it,” he explains.
The jury will sense a lawyer’s hesitation in talking about the money damages, and they will think that they don’t believe in it, according to Keith.
“It’s over before you even get started. You do not, can not, don’t walk in front of a jury with those feelings,” he urges.
The starting point of delivering on damage is “believing.”
So what do you do?
You have to start before you even get in front of the jury, so you can convince yourself that it really is righteous to pursue money damages for your client. Then, the jury will sense your conviction and your chances of convincing the jury go through the ceiling.
Then come the pillars of truth that help the jury believe too. And one of those truths is – “It’s not about how much they’re going to get, it’s about how much was taken.”
There’s a mindset you have to cull out of the jury: that the lawsuit is a money grab. Whatever the damages amount is, it’s going to be a significant number in some of those juror’s eyes.
“They’re going to think, why should he get rich off of this? Profit off an injury?” Keith asks.
Rather, Keith suggests it should be framed as, “it’s not about how much you’re going to get, it’s about how much was taken.”
You also need to remember that your client is not here for a philosophical debate about who was right or wrong. They are here for a remedy, and it is your job to deliver that remedy via the jury. Once you remember that, all shame leaves and you feel dignified. That’s what Keith means when he talks about “the dignity of damages.”