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What Jurors Think About You: Part I

How often have you wondered what others really think about you? For those of you who are trial attorneys, how often have you wondered what jurors think about you?

Research has indicated that we are only about 50% right in knowing our own image and how we come across to others. We think we come across as confident but to someone else we are arrogant. Or, we do not realize how often we say “um” or notice that we use the word “so” at the beginning (or end) of far too many sentences (I’m personally guilty of that one). We all want to make good impressions and be liked, but it is rare to get truly honest feedback from others about how we are perceived.

When we hand over reports of post-trial juror interviews, some of our clients have admitted that the first thing they turn to is the section covering what jurors said about them (you know who you are!). And, jurors tend to have a lot to say about attorneys, what they do well and what could be improved upon. We are lucky enough to work with some brilliant and charismatic attorneys, so the feedback is often good. But, even when it is not there is something to learn.

We’ve combed through dozens of our post-trial juror interviews to identify what jurors like, and what they really do not like, to see from lawyers during trial. With this two-part posting, we are sharing jurors’ most important and consistent feedback with you.

Some of their advice may appear obvious, but in every trial there is always one side that does it better and it can never hurt to be reminded of what matters most to jurors. Here are the most common themes in jurors’ feedback and what jurors want you, the attorney in the courtroom, to know:

[Note: All quotes come directly from jurors, but some have been edited to remove identifying information and/or for clarity.]

We See Everything: During a trial, a juror’s job is to observe and evaluate the evidence. But that is not all they are seeing and judging – they notice everything you, your client and your opponent does and as you will see. It leaves a lasting impression.

“It’s funny, when you get into the psychology of a jury pool. We often have such little to do, we notice all the little silly stupid stuff that has nothing to do with the issues of the case.” 

“I noticed the attorneys had laptops on their table, and they would be working on their laptops when there was testimony was going on. I wondered if they were checking their emails. It wasn’t very professional.” 

“There also seemed to be some distance between the plaintiff attorneys and their clients.  Compared to the defense table, where the doctor was sitting in between the attorneys, the plaintiffs were over to the side and did not have a lot to do with the attorneys.”

Get it Together: The number one thing jurors want to see in attorneys at trial is that you are prepared and organized.

“[Defense counsel] was very organized. He seemed to always know where to pull the right paper from, how to counter a lot of plaintiffs’ remarks, and always seemed to have a point to every question he asked, unlike the plaintiffs.”

“They had their plan of attack laid out. They were organized and methodical, not searching around for papers or fumbling around. And they were very polite.”

“The plaintiffs were organized and had their equipment prepared at all times; they were up and running and ready to go. They had their paperwork when and where they needed it.” 

“When the attorneys weren’t prepared, it came across as: ‘I can’t quite figure this out. I’m not sure what I should be doing here.’ This makes them come across as a bit incompetent. I think this causes jurors to focus more on things that are of little to no importance at all.” 

Help Us Help You: It is easy to forget that jurors do not know what you know. There are so many terms and concepts that attorneys deal with on a daily basis that most jurors have never heard of before. It is worth taking some extra time in openings and closings to review some of the basic terms jurors need to understand to make their decisions, and put in within a context (story) that makes sense.

“It would have helped if, in the closing argument, the defense focused more on explaining ‘the standard of care.’ That would have resonated with the jury because none of us knew what standard of care was and we struggled to find a definition.”

“The plaintiff did not tell a good story. The defense told a much better story, a much more reasoned story that you could follow logically from one spot to another. The plaintiff’s story was punctuated by legal stuff.”

The Parties Can Take the Case Personally, But You Cannot: In a trial, everyone has a role to play and jurors do not like it when the roles get confused. As fierce advocates for their clients, jurors appreciate attorneys expressing passion for their client, as long as it does not cross the line. That cuts your credibility and allows jurors to draw unfavorable conclusions about you and your case.

“One of the attorneys seemed quite angry about something or someone, but I couldn’t tell what it was. We all wondered about that during deliberations, too. Some ruling probably went against her or something.”

“The defense attorneys seemed like they were making fun of the plaintiff’s case – maybe that is what they do but I felt that was really unwarranted. In closings, they would put up a picture of a witness and then make fun of what the witnesses said.” 

“The plaintiff’s attorney got emotional and we also could tell that she was very angry. The defendant’s attorney was confident and just spoke the facts. As a juror or as an attorney, emotions should not come into play.” 

“One of the witnesses made an excellent point and the attorney unfortunately didn’t like it or agree with it and how he handled it damaged his credibility tremendously. Rather than countering it calmly or waiting for another witness to explain it away, he got a bit emotional and made a bit of a fool of himself.” 

“He seemed to take things very personal and usually raised his voice and pointed his finger at witnesses when things weren’t going as planned.”

Use Technology and Use it Well: Today’s trials often involve a lot more than an attorney standing at a podium talking. Advances in technology, increasing juror expectations and more insight into persuasive presentation strategies means that successfully trying a case also means effectively managing the equipment so that jurors pay attention to the message and not the missteps. If you are not comfortable with technology, bring in someone who is. (And no, jurors will NOT think you are too slick.)

I shouldn’t have to sit and watch him wonder where his computer plugs in. It makes it feel like his facts aren’t right either. If he can’t figure out his laptop maybe he can’t figure out this case, or maybe he can’t present it to me in a way I can understand it.” 

“It was all very scientific medical information and none of us were experts, but [their visuals] gave us more confidence to see what they saw instead of just hearing about it. If the plaintiff had done the same thing, there could have been a different outcome.”

“Unfortunately, the attorney wasn’t up-to-date on PowerPoint so he just used the old flip-chart. For me, that didn’t feel as professional because of the technology we have now. It made him seem scattered and he was just much harder to follow.” 

“I think the summation of the defense was terrific. They brought it together very quickly and all of the pieces fit together. They had a slide show that was sort of like a puzzle and it showed how everything fit together and they did very well. I think it made the point stick better.”

This brings us to the end of Part I, but don’t worry we will have more soon. Stay tuned …

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