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Do jurors surf the Internet to learn about the lawyers in the case, despite judges’ warnings that it’s a no-no? You bet they do, and some jury consultants advise firms to ponder, “What will jurors think of me after visiting my Web site?” Lawyers intrigued by the advice should visit the home page of New Jersey insurance defense firm Bolan Jahnsen & Reardon in Shrewsbury. The site isn’t targeting jurors, but the firm kept them in mind when writing the copy, managing partner Daniel Jahnsen says. Besides information that portrays the firm as competent and experienced — Jahnsen has tried 200 cases to verdict — the site includes self-deprecating humor to suggest that the lawyers aren’t stuffed shirts who take themselves too seriously. The idea is that any juror who does browse by will appreciate the light touch. “We want to humanize ourselves and show a sense of humor,” Jahnsen says. His biography, mostly about his experience, knowledge, and achievements in court and on the lecture circuit, ends with: “Most of this is actually true. This stuff about lecturing, however, sounds more impressive than it is. No one has ever paid to listen to Dan talk.” Another bio jokes about a lawyer who learned to love beer in college. Web designers and jury consultants who looked at the site say it might turn off potential clients and that some of the humor is over the top or falls flat. And some say using a Web site to get jurors to like you and gain an edge at a trial is a futile exercise. DON’T PEEK! But they also say firms that add jurors’ potential impressions to the normal criteria in writing Web site material may be on the right track, because some jurors are looking, despite judges’ admonitions. “They’re not supposed to, but it doesn’t mean they don’t,” Jahnsen says. Model civil jury instructions in most states include general warnings to panelists against amateur investigating, like visiting accident scenes or studying the effects of diseases. Recognizing that the electronic age has made such sleuthing easier, judges in New Jersey are mentioning the Internet in their admonitions. Indeed, the state Supreme Court’s Committee on Model Civil Jury Charges is studying a draft rewrite of model charge 1.11(C) to include the Internet, cell-phone messaging, chat rooms, and BlackBerries as off-limit sources for information about cases. The committee is concerned about jurors using the Internet to satisfy curiosity about the substance of the trial, not the lawyers, says Kevin Wolfe, the judiciary’s staff adviser to the committee. But that’s something that may be addressed in the future, he says. Middlesex County, N.J., Superior Court Judge Lewis Paley says he already mentions the Internet in his general admonition to jurors. But he doesn’t say specifically, “Don’t Google the lawyers.” Even so, that’s what juries are doing, consultants say. Research has shown that jurors routinely disregard the instruction and want to find out as much as they can about everything related to the case, including the judges, witnesses, and lawyers, says Richard Waites, based in the Houston office of 16-branch jury consulting firm The Advocates. “We have seen situations after a trial is over where a jury will say it knows something about a lawyer even though they may be coy about how they found it,” Waites says. “It’s obvious they found out only by the Internet,” “If lawyers knew more about what jurors knew about them, they would be much more careful about what they put on their Web site,” he says. Waites says lawyers should root out anything that suggests a lawyer is biased or untrustworthy in coming to a fair resolution of the case. For example, a juror could be turned off by a plaintiff’s lawyer whose site includes chest thumping about huge awards the firm has won. “They forget that there are a lot of jurors, some of whom are defense-oriented, who are going to their Web site,” he says. “If a defense lawyer gloats about the great victories he achieves for his defense clients — that he wins 100 percent of the time — or something that would show the lawyer is so defense-oriented he is biased or untrustworthy when it comes to fair resolution, it would kind of turn you off,” he says. Jurors read about lawyers during voir dire and again during trial, Bob Weiss, of Alyn-Weiss Associates, a Denver marketing consultant, wrote in the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Today newsletter in July 2004. “Defense counsel may want to soften their image of being Goliath’s hired guns via the Web. Plaintiff’s counsel may want to position themselves as champions of the Davids of the world.” “Whatever you convey on your site should be consistent with the impression you are trying to make to jurors in the courtroom. No jury consultant wants you to develop a credibility issue with the jury during trial,” Weiss wrote. Weiss said that nearly all his clients agree it is worthwhile to appeal to jurors and that mentioning pro bono efforts, the interests of the lawyers, and how they view their roles as attorneys, business owners, parents, and spouses would be appropriate and would connect with jurors. Arthur Patterson, a senior vice president with DecisionQuest in Torrance, Calif., says there’s not much a firm can do to influence such lurkers. Defense firms that try to project a warm fuzzy image will have as little success as drug companies that peddle “we care” attitudes in ads and then get slammed for multimillion-dollar verdicts. On a scale of one to 10, he rates jury impact a low two or three among criteria for a Web site. Daniel Siegel, a Havertown, Pa., lawyer who advises firms on technology and Web site content, says he hasn’t thought about the effect on jurors because jurors aren’t supposed to check out lawyers’ sites. At the same time, there’s nothing unethical about thinking of the effect because “you’re not marketing to jurors directly,” he says. Thinking about juror impact “is news to me,” says Kevin Hersh of Mfx Inc., a Web design company in Caldwell, N.J., that created the Web sites for McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter in Morristown, N.J., and Morgan Melhuish & Abrutyn in Livingston, N.J., two firms that concentrate on defense work. The priorities for most clients are appealing to clients and potential employees, he says. Of 200 law firm clients of PaperStreet Web Design in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., including Archer & Greiner in Haddonfield, N.J., five have mentioned effect on jurors as a goal of their sites, says chief executive Pete Berg. THAT’S NOT FUNNY Marketing adviser Weiss says he thinks Bolan Jahnsen went too far to be funny and flopped. Indeed, he says his staff was aghast when it saw the site. “It’s not informative, humanizing, or amusing, it’s just flip,” he says. Stacy Clark of Stacy Clark Marketing in Devon, Pa., studied dozens of funny lawyer Web sites for an article on humor in marketing for the October 2005 issue of the ABA’s Law Practice magazine. “Humor has been a great tool in helping these firms get their personalities across and deliver their messages to their target audience,” she says of marketing material such as the letter a Northbrook, Ill., lawyer sent to sensitize clients to the need for estate planning: “An Estate Plan for Tony and Carmella Soprano — Getting the Most Bada-bang for Your Buck.” Clark says the Bolan Jahnsen attempt at humor fails. “No one wants their lawyer in a major matter to have a statement in their bio �a warm beer is still a good beer,’” she says. Jahnsen is not concerned. He says that after building the firm from two lawyers to 13 in 13 years, he is confident his clients won’t have a problem with his site, knowing what they know about the firm’s qualifications. As for other visitors, including any who may be jurors, “We don’t want to portray ourselves as stuffed shirts who represent Fortune 500 companies,” he says.
Henry Gottlieb is a reporter for the New Jersey Law Journal , the ALM publication in which this article first appeared.

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