Thomas McCutcheon

You’re not a lawyer until you pass the bar. The “bar” can refer to the entire legal profession, a formal portion of it, or the bar exam itself. Each state court system, federal court, and the U.S. Supreme Court is a separate bar with its own standards of admission and practice.

You can’t pass the bar until you’re a lawyer. A courtroom is divided into two parts by a railing or similar barrier called the bar. Only lawyers, their clients, and witnesses who are called to testify may traverse it. The use of “bar” to refer to the legal profession as a whole derives from the tradition of barring non-participants from the trial area of the courtroom.

Law school doesn’t teach laws. One attends law school to learn how to think like a lawyer, not to memorize laws. Laws change; how they are properly analyzed does not.

Most of what happens in a civil trial happened before the trial. In civil cases, litigants are required to exchange information before trial. Through the discovery process, each party may depose (question under oath) the opposition and any other individuals who may provide relevant information. Consequently, each side knows the other’s case well before the trial begins.

A judge is also involved well before trial. A judge reads pretrial pleadings and motion from the two sides, researches relevant issues, settles disputes that arise during discovery, issues warrants and summonses, and supervises jury selection. Most cases settle before trial, making pretrial work the court’s main work.

Not guilty doesn’t always mean innocent. In issuing a verdict of guilty, a jury asserts its belief that a criminal defendant is responsible for a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury that believes a defendant is “probably guilty” must vote to acquit. A reasonable doubt must be derived rationally from the evidence, or from a lack of evidence presented by the prosecution. It cannot on sympathy for the accused, unfounded theorizing, or fanciful conjecture.

Useful evidence isn’t necessarily admissible evidence.

Relevance: Is the evidence connected to the issues at trial? Will it make an important alleged fact in the case more or less probable?

Authentication: Can the evidence be shown to be what its proponent says it is? Can a proper chain of custody be shown, for example, by bringing to court police officer who found it?

Hearsay: If the source of the evidence cannot appear in court, came the evidence be admitted under a hearsay exception?

Privileges: Will any privileges (spousal, attorney-client, etc.) prevent the evidence from being admitted?

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