James Hanratty recently was inducted into the membership of the American Board of Trial Advocates. It’s a national association of trial lawyers and judges dedicated to the preservation of the right to a civil jury trial. Membership is by invitation only, reserved for lawyers who have significant experience in leading civil jury trials to verdict.
Who or what inspired you to become a lawyer? I never even met a lawyer until I was 17 years old. I had no idea what lawyers did other than defend criminals, and I only knew that from TV. But that was enough for me. Practicing law and trying cases is all I have ever wanted to do.
Someone other than my spouse who inspires me: I am inspired by those who overcome adversity and those who volunteer to lead. I believe that if you have the opportunity and ability to lead, you also have the duty. I am inspired by those who take up this task and help others succeed.
How do you relate your undergraduate degree to your practice of law? My undergraduate degrees are in English and history. These degrees are all about the telling of stories to communicate ideas and influence others to obtain results. That is what a trial lawyer does.
How did you decide your practice area? And why have you chosen that? I always had an interest in medicine. Defending personal injury lawsuits exposes me to medical issues associated with claims and allows me to interact with medical professionals. I enjoy the challenge of learning a small amount of the medicine applicable to a claim and cross-examining witnesses based on what I have learned.
What has been the biggest change in your practice area since you passed the Bar? The number of civil jury trials has decreased significantly. Along with this, the ability for newer attorneys to have an active role in jury trials has decreased even more. In the next 10 to 20 years it will be rare to find an attorney with extensive civil jury trial experience.
What do you think will be the next biggest change in your area of law? The continued rise in the use of paraprofessionals for an ever-expanding role. Just as in the medical profession, I predict that in the coming years, more and more work that has been traditionally performed by lawyers will be done by paralegals.
If I could change anything in the legal system … I would increase the number of judges or magistrates to help reduce the backlog of cases in our courts. Our society values the right to be litigious. But every right comes with a duty. As a society, we should commit to either reduce our dependence on the court system or increase its ability to serve us by adding judges or “para-judges” to perform some of the traditional roles of the judge.
What community service have you pursued and why that? I have been active in my alma mater’s alumni association, have served as a Big Brother, worked with my church and more recently, have been involved with Team RWB, a veterans service organization dedicated to enriching the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.
What’s your advice for new lawyers? Be patient. My first boss told me that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” I thought he was crazy. I understand better now. Learn your craft. Ask questions, and listen to the answers.