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Floating a trial balloon Connell Foley lawyers say practice group devoted to courtroom work gives their firm a needed edge

Jeff Moryan, left, and Bob Ryan, partners and co-chairs of Connell Foley's trial practice group.

Bob Ryan and Jeff Moryan are seasoned trial lawyers who know how to make a case — inside the courtroom and out of it.

This time, they’re arguing that founding a practice group dedicated to trials is a good idea despite the fact that only a small portion of cases — about 5 percent by some accounts — go to trial.

The duo will co-chair a newly formed trial practice group at Connell Foley LLP, which they believe fills a void that has developed in part due to trials being such a rarity.

“These days, there are fewer cases being tried to juries because the time and expense commitment that businesses have to make in litigating matters becomes so overwhelming,” Ryan said. “But there are a subset of cases that businesses have to worry about that may go the whole way.

“There’s now a dearth of lawyers familiar with trial court because so many matters don’t go to trial and people just don’t usually go into a courtroom. … There are a lot of bright lawyers, but we think there’s a special skillset required of lawyers who are able to do a jury trial.”

To that end, Ryan and Moryan assembled a team of lawyers that will focus on the trial of substantial matters in state and federal court. The trial practice group, one of around 20 practice groups at Connell Foley LLP, offers the services of trial specialists in the litigation process.

“It’s not that we’re advocating more cases reaching trial — although I do think there is an effect certain clients would have on the marketplace if they did go to trial — it’s just that clients are not always being given the proper evaluation,” Moryan said. “That’s what we want to do.”

Providing the roadmap
When does an attorney decide he wants to dive into trust and estates law, divorce and family law or anything else so sharply focused?
Specializations in the legal profession run the gamut, and law schools certainly can’t provide students an experience with everything.
Kathleen Boozang, dean of Seton Hall University School of Law, said the school attempts to expose its students to different areas in law as much as possible.
“We do as much as possible to clarify what their path will be before they graduate — but, of course, some don’t know until after they enter the job market,” Boozang said. “We can at least start by helping students eliminate areas they aren’t interested in.”
At the same time, focusing too narrowly in one area may not be the best choice for an aspiring attorney, according to Max Crane of Sills Cummis & Gross.
“I’ve seen enough economic cycles to know that if you do one thing and only one thing well, you’re likely to run through spells in which your area is not much in demand,” he said. “The key is to be nimble.”

There already is a growing boutique trial firm industry, but Connell Foley’s trial group departs from that specialized model somewhat in that it aims to complement the firm’s already existing standard litigation services.

“(With) any case, the last thing you want to do is to be in a situation in which you’ve litigated with someone for two years who is not a trial lawyer and then have that person pull a parachute on you because they’re scared of having to try the case,” Moryan said.

Although few cases enter jury trials between the mediation and arbitration options presented to both sides in a case, the veteran lawyers believe there’s some undue fear of trials in particular on the part of corporate clients.

Their hope is that their firm’s new team, which includes 11 certified civil trial lawyers, can help assuage that fear.

“It’s important to have someone on board from the very beginning who can assess things from the perspective of the trial backwards,” Moryan said. “And, by the way, having that seasoned trial lawyer on board all along has an impact — in terms of settlement, mediation and arbitration, too — because the party bringing the claim realizes that the averse counsel is experienced in trials.”

Putting it bluntly, they expect to invoke some nail-biting.

“As I always say, we know where the courthouse is,” Moryan said.

Likewise, the nervous question they get from clients — whether they should settle a case from the get-go — isn’t something they immediately give an affirmative reply to.

“So often, the response that comes back is, ‘That’s so refreshing because our lawyers all over the country never say that, they always say we have to settle the case no matter what,’” Ryan said. “There’s a solace they get from that.”

E-mail to: brettj@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @reporterbrett

Brett Johnson

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