Scaling the Mountain: Why Preparing for a Case is Just as Strenuous as Mountain Climbing
Several years ago, I decided to climb Mount Rainier. I was fresh out of a 30-day stint in the hospital for major surgery, and I was at my lowest point, physically. I don’t know if it was to prove something to myself or as a way to build back my muscles, but I decided I would summit Mount Rainier in just four months.
I had a lot of work to do.
I began with running to build up my stamina, and it was difficult. Running was completely foreign to me, but I knew that climbing a mountain would prove to be even more difficult if I couldn’t build my endurance this way. I ended up running a few half-marathons before that fateful climbing day in September. That’s nothing compared to the intense training runners for the Boston Marathon, which occurs each April, have to do. I never wanted to run a marathon, nor have I run much since, but I was still proud of what I had accomplished.
When climbing day came, the wind was relentless. There were 60 mph wind gusts, and we had to scream in each other’s ears just to hear one another. While up there, you only had yourself and your thoughts, all alone on that mountain despite the two dozen other people trying to climb it, too.
About halfway up the summit, the guides went around asking everyone if they wanted to keep going or turn back. I never considered anything other than reaching the top. I knew that once I started contemplating anything but seeing this goal to its fruition, then everything would crumble. Slowly, everyone else started to peel back down the mountain. I realized I was one of three people who had agreed to keep going in the incessant wind.
And I made it. I was so exhausted once we reached the bottom again. In fact, I had the best sleep of my life the next day. But all of the preparation and determination I had put into training for that very moment wasn’t wasted. I had done what I set out to do just four months prior.
I use that same determination every day. I’ve been an attorney for nearly 20 years, and in that time, I’ve learned that preparation is one of the most valuable components of the work I do. Whether it’s $200,000 or $2 million that’s at stake, it’s vital that I comb through every file, every report, and every detail in my client’s story to ensure that nothing is missed.
This all starts about 60–90 days out from the trial. I soak up everything about the case, whittling down the information to the most important details as time goes on. I may spend an afternoon working on one file, only to wind up not needing it in the actual trial, but there’s still tremendous value in having that information. It’s a creative process, which often includes examining the information thoroughly and discerning its value among the other pieces of information I have.
Part of this preparation includes helping clients, too. I want to know the full truth of what a client or their loved one experienced — not just the story they have memorized and told others. I want to know who they saw, what they smelled, and what happened minute by minute. We’re not going to re-traumatize the client, but we need to know the full truth of what happened in that moment. It’s scary for clients at first. My job is to make sure they feel safe, heard, and validated. It can be cathartic, and they will feel much more prepared for the trial.
I do this for every case. I believe every case I work on is important; I don’t refer to cases as big cases or small cases. Any case that I’m going to try for a client is big. In the context of their lives, this could be one of the biggest things to ever happen to them — regardless of the dollar amount attached to it.
Every case is its own version of Mount Rainier. Sometimes the wind gusts are 60 mph, and some people may quit on it. But I never will. I’ll continue to prepare and strategize to provide you with the best possible support you need in this moment. I’ll get you to that summit.
–Jamie Moncus, Trial Lawyer
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