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Ready for war: Lawyers need comfort, supplies, privacy when litigating out of town

Patent litigator Joe Miotke of DeWitt, Ross & Stevens SC sits at his Brookfield office. (Photo by Kevin Harnack)

By Jane Pribek

Music group Van Halen was not being prima donnas when members requested all brown M&Ms be removed from bowls in their dressing rooms; they were just being cautious.

“The real reason was to make sure everybody was paying attention,” said patent litigator Joe Miotke of DeWitt, Ross & Stevens SC. “If no brown M&Ms were in that bowl, management probably felt pretty comfortable that they’d read every detail of the rider. And if they’d gotten that right, they’d gotten everything right.”

It’s an example, Miotke said, he follows when setting up remote war rooms for litigation.

“When you’re in charge of setting up the war room for litigation, it’s kind of like being the road manager for a big rock group super tour; making sure all the little things are perfect,” he said. “And it can be an inglorious job, because it’s very rare when it’s all said and done that someone says, ‘Nice job coordinating that.’

“The only time you hear about it is when something gets screwed up.”

To lessen the chances for error, Miotke said he is detailed in his requirements and makes sure to communicate them to the hotel manager.

“It puts them a little bit on their toes from the outset,” he said. “But chances are, your clients invested a lot in the case, and you want everything perfect.”

But short of requesting all brown M&Ms be removed from the premises, how else can lawyers ensure their specific requirements are met? Miotke and other trial lawyers give the following tips:

Book early

Reserve a space as soon as you get a trial date, Miotke said, with proximity to the courthouse as a central consideration. That way, if someone forgets a trial notebook, he or she can easily rush back to get it.

Miotke said he learned that lesson when he neglected to book a hotel early for a lengthy trial in Los Angeles. By the time he thought of it, the only option was “a semi-dumpy hotel in East L.A. bordering on Compton.”

The commute was bad. It took about an hour to get to the downtown courthouse. During rush hours, that commute time doubled or tripled, he said.

Madison medical-malpractice defense lawyer David McFarlane said he often designates a paralegal to help get things moving.

“Get someone who’s in charge of making the arrangements,” he recommended, “finding out what the options are and negotiating with people.”

Book the space through the weekends, added McFarlane of Madison-based Bell, Moore & Richter SC, so you can leave everything until the trial’s over.

Miotke recommended booking everyone’s rooms and the war room near each other — and far away from opposing counsel. In one of his previous trials, he said, an opposing witness was staying in the room directly adjacent to the war room. It was amazing how quiet — and paranoid — a group of litigators could be, he quipped.

And, if ensuring your privacy means booking an entire floor, be sure to communicate that to the client upfront, so they understand the necessity.

McFarlane said he likes to take over a bed and breakfast whenever possible. Confidentiality won’t be an issue there, and typically the owners are hospitable and helpful.

Consider sharing office space

Brookfield lawyer Pat Dunphy said in more rural venues, he sometimes partners with a local firm to use its equipment and conference rooms. Just make sure there’s after-hours access, he added.

Make it comfortable

A stark room with folding tables and chairs isn’t the most conducive to productivity, Miotke said.

Along these lines, he said he always inquires about the type of chairs in the room designated. Although he’s never gone this far, legend has it that a large Chicago firm once shipped a truckload of Herman Miller Aeron chairs to the East Coast for a war room.

“It sounds neurotic, but it’s not if that’s what you’re used to working in all day,” Miotke said.

Poll the trial team for what will make them all a little happier, said Dunphy, of Cannon & Dunphy. And be sure to supply snacks.

“There’s always that need to munch while you’re thinking,” Dunphy said.

McFarlane said he’ll go even further to ensure comfort.

“I don’t see anything wrong with having a glass of beer or wine when you’re working in the war room,” he said. “In moderation, it can be very helpful.”

He also relaxes the environment by playing jazz or classical music in the background, he said.

Consult the client

Remember to consider how the client will view your choice of accommodations. Even if the client likes the Ritz Carlton, she might find it excessive for her lawyers, Miotke said.

Remember office basics

“You’re far better off bringing too many office supplies than not enough,” Miotke said.

And just like in a traditional office, Dunphy said, IT support may be necessary, so always make sure there’s someone who can troubleshoot technology issues.

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