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What Jurors Think About You: Part II

Previously on “How Jurors Think,” we learned that jurors:

  • Pay attention to everything that goes on in trial;
  • Value an attorney’s organization and preparedness above all else;
  • Need you to take the time to explain legal and complex terms in a way they can understand;
  • Appreciate it when attorneys are passionate about their case but do not want you to be overly emotional or take upsets personally; and
  • Expect you to use modern technology in your presentations, but you better know how to use it well.

Here are five more messages from jurors about what they value most in the trial attorneys.

Don’t Distract Us From The Witnesses: Although attorneys on television dramas use this method quite often, jurors hate it when you try to distract them. It may keep them from paying close attention to the testimony, but it also paints the attorney as rude and relying on gimmicks instead of facts to win the case.

“The main attorney for the plaintiff had no courtroom etiquette. I was surprised the judge didn’t go after him. His chair squeaked and at different times, he would throw up his hands and move around to squeak his chair; but, he only did that during the defense’s cross- examination of his witnesses. He would tear papers as loud as he could out of his pad. It was extremely annoying. If I had to do it over again, I’d wait for a recess and ask to speak with the bailiff and complain about him. It was difficult to hear in that courtroom as it was and to have that monkey business going on was ridiculous.

“The plaintiff attorneys made a lot of noise talking to each other when the defense attorneys were examining witnesses. They were not very professional.”

Don’t Waste Our Time: Jurors have put their lives on hold to hear your case, sometimes at great detriment to their careers, income and/or families.

“Always in the back of the [attorney’s] mind there should be this sense that you’re arguing a case against time, because 14 people have effectively put their lives on hold to listen to it, so every part of that argument should be deemed essential to the case, otherwise you’re wasting the jurors’ time.”  

“I thought the credentialing part done at the beginning of the [expert] witnesses was really long. It about killed us. It was like, enough already, we get that you are smart, move on.”

“The attorney was great, he gave us the facts and substantiated what we needed to know. He didn’t waste our time and drag it out.”

“The plaintiff attorneys were always missing exhibits and spending time during questioning looking for things.”

Give Jurors Some Credit: No one likes to be lectured at, yelled at or condescended to – jurors included. With few exceptions, jurors take their job very seriously and they work hard to understand the evidence and make the right decision. If they feel under attack by the attorneys, it becomes increasingly difficult to set those impressions aside once they go in to the deliberation room.

“He would just lecture at us and he was very condescending in telling us how we had to think and how we had to see things.”

“He shouldn’t yell at us because we hold the case in our hands.”

“The attorneys were absolutely excellent; they did not look down on the jurors as being uneducated. They were not demeaning to the jurors. They were gentle in cross- examinations, except a couple of times when they got fiery – but that was understandable because it was late in the day.” 

Be Nice to Everyone:Trials are adversarial, jurors get that. But few (healthy) people enjoy watching rudeness or conflict. Attorneys get lots of bonus points from jurors when they treat each other and witnesses politely and with respect.

“He lost credibility when he was badgering the witnesses and forcing them to answer hypothetical questions, trying to get them to say what he wanted them to say and not really trying to get them to give the truth and explain what happened. He was forcing a yes or no answer when that wasn’t appropriate for some of the things he was asking them.

“During trial, he slouched in his chair and half the time he wouldn’t even get up when talking with witnesses. Sometimes he didn’t even look at the witnesses.”

“They never went after the plaintiff in terms of credibility or character which was a great move on their part. I’m not saying the opportunity wasn’t there for them to do that, but I’m glad they didn’t because it could have backfired on them.” 

It’s Not All About You: As evident in the quotes above, jurors form some strong opinions about attorneys during a trial but they also try hard to separate out their impressions from their verdicts. That is, they try. More often than not, the attorneys jurors like the best wins because that is the attorney who best presented the case and taught jurors what they needed to know without distracting them by emotions, trivia or gimmicks. We have, however, talked with jurors who really liked the attorneys on the losing side of the case more than they liked the winning attorneys.

“I didn’t care for the defense attorneys but it didn’t matter because the proof was in the exhibits and in the depositions. It didn’t matter what I thought of them because it was only Dr. Moore’s negligence up for discussion.”

“I would like to think that even if we didn’t like him, we would have voted the same way but because he is the way he is, it made the decision so much easier.”

The bottom line is jurors have expectations about how attorneys should act, but above everything else they appreciate someone who is polite, respectful of everyone in the courtroom and who takes the time to teach them what they need to know. Earning the jury’s respect is not a guarantee you will win, but it certainly cannot hurt.

If you have a different experience, or if there is a topic you would like us to cover in a future posting, let us know. You can email Andrea at ablount@dbhjury.com.

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