Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law, and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.
Trial lawyers among us are probably all familiar with the experience of the difficulties of proceeding with a complex case. There is a lot to keep on top of. There may be a huge volume of evidence on both sides, a lot of witnesses to get through and the tactics of your opponent to consider. When trying to stay in control of all of this, we can get bogged down in the minutiae of our cases and lose sight of the bigger picture. By “the bigger picture,” what I basically mean is the fundamental goal of any civil trial: persuading 12 ordinary people that your client is right and your opponent is wrong.
While attention to detail is obviously crucial as well, this post will focus more on some of the personal elements that can help win the jury over to your side, regardless of the strength or weakness of your case.
1. Show them you’re a normal person during jury selection
Jury selection is a time to make a good impression and one that can be used to connect with the jury on a personal level. Some jurors may have a bad impression of the legal profession. Some may have a view of lawyers as ivory tower academics. Some may think we are cold, mechanical robots. Use jury selection to show them that’s not true.
So, in addition to asking basic questions like what they do for a living or what their hobbies are, go a bit further and get them talking. For example, ask what about their hobbies do they really enjoy and how long they’ve been doing it. If you can come across as a nice, friendly, ordinary person who actually cares about getting to know the jury rather than a machine programmed to eliminate the people who won’t vote in your favor, it may give you an edge over your opposing counsel.
2. Don’t be too aggressive
Too much aggression is a bad thing in nearly all walks of life. This can be particularly true in court when you are trying to persuade 12 strangers of the merits of your client’s case. Most people don’t like having a point of view hammered into them. Thus, most jurors will warm to a calmer, confident attorney who gives the impression of a person simply providing the jury with the information it needs to reach the right result rather than force a decision upon them.
Accomplished lawyers with strong cases and a great mastery of the law and facts can lose cases to attorneys who connect with the jury better. Whether we like it or not, winning over people can be just as important as presenting winning arguments in jury trials.