Q&A: Roy DeCaro
The keys to trying a case
Published in 2009 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers magazine
By Adam Wahlberg on May 21, 2009
Roy DeCaro has tried more than 200 jury trials during his career, first as a prosecutor and now as a plaintiff’s attorney at Raynes McCarty. He has earned millions of dollars in awards for his clients and placed many criminals behind bars, all thanks to his outsized gift for persuasion. We asked him to take us inside his process.
When did you decide you wanted to be a trial lawyer?
When I saw To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. I wanted to be Atticus Finch.
What does it take to prepare properly for a jury trial?
Every hour you’re in court, there’s 100 hours that you’re preparing for that hour.
Yeah, it’s time-intensive. That is something I can’t say that I really enjoy, all the minutiae, putting in all that time, but you know, it has to be done.
What’s your favorite part?
I’d say closing to a jury, knowing when you’ve done a good job. The juices still flow.
Tell us about your pretrial process.
I guess everybody’s a little different. If I know I’m going to be trying my case to a jury, I start preparing that closing argument before I even pick a jury, and then I work on the closing every night as the jury progresses—you know, after every witness that I get, I figure out what piece do I want to tell the jury about this particular witness. So to me the preparation of the closing argument is a long process. And then, of course, you distill it the night before and then you change it around about 20 times before you actually say it and then when you say it, it’s (laughs) totally different than what you were going to say the night before. And you know, you talk from the heart, you talk right to the jurors. Generally they listen. More often than not, they do the right thing.
You must be pretty good at reading juries by now. Can you tell which way they’re leaning?
Not always. I thought earlier in my career jurors were less cynical than they are today. Now, even as a plaintiff’s attorney, when I’m putting on civil cases, particularly when you have a medical malpractice case, when you have a doctor as a defendant, you have to not only prove your case by the legal burden, you have to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt in this more cynical age with jurors reading and seeing so much, and knowing so much, because of the Internet and everything else. It’s a lot tougher than it was before. The jurors want to see a show. They see the way it’s presented sometimes on television and they want to be entertained.
Must be heartbreaking when they go against you.
I can probably count on one hand the jury verdicts that have been totally disappointing. I’ve been more surprised positively than negatively. But yeah, when you get a bad result in a righteous case that you’ve put your heart and soul into, it’s devastating.
Which have been your favorite cases?
The jury verdicts that may have made a difference. One case comes to mind, a case that I tried probably 20 years ago, Fleck v. Hoffinger, which is a case where a 23-year-old engineer dove into an above-ground pool and broke his neck, and there was an eight-figure verdict in federal court. That was the time when eight figures was real money (laughs), and that may have made a difference because it really put a spotlight on the necessity of having “no diving” warnings in some of these above-ground pools because the depth of the water was deceptive.
What advice do you give to young trial lawyers?
To be themselves and speak from their heart. It’s really a matter of connecting and communicating with 12 people you’ve never met before and not talking down or up to them. Some lawyers want to go in and they want to be somebody that they’re not. All of a sudden they change. Juries can see right through that.
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