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Is your Rolex keeping you from being the lawyer you could be? Or is it maybe your haircut that’s holding you back? Or perhaps jurors don’t listen to your closing arguments because they’re transfixed by your Armani suits. Such negative juror reactions may seem far-fetched, but the 2000 National Law Journal/DecisionQuest Juror Outlook Survey shows that a worrisome number of potential jurors have a strange list of lawyer turnoffs. Even if you manage not to distract jurors with the way you look or dress, you may may find that jurors don’t like the techniques you use in court, ranging from impassioned closing statements to computer-aided presentations of the facts to in-your-face cross-examinations of witnesses. If you’re not in the Johnnie Cochran class when it comes to flashy jewelry or expensive suits, this opinionated juror view may be great news. “America is full of boring, short-haired white guys in suits,” laments criminal defense lawyer and New York talk radio personality Ronald Kuby. “I think there’s a factory in Winnetka, Ill., or somewhere that stamps out boring midlevel associates.” Jurors are not necessarily looking for a lawyer who’s white or male, but the survey results suggest that they prefer their lawyers to be — well, boring. “I don’t think you’ll ever get a vote by the way you dress,” says Thomas Girardi of Girardi & Keese in Los Angeles, “but I know you can lose votes. I think lawyers look good dressed conservatively.” Girardi, a successful plaintiffs’ lawyer, is best known for his lead-counsel role in the toxic-tort suit dramatized in the movie “Erin Brockovich.” He didn’t have to worry about juries in that one. The defendant, Pacific Gas & Electric, settled in 1996 for $333 million. BORING IS BEST When it comes to clothes, potential jurors who were surveyed seemed to favor the no-nonsense look of Girardi and of David Boies, famous for his pulverizing cross-examination of Microsoft witnesses, delivered in plain blue Lands’ End suits. Then again, jurors younger than 25 were more likely to prefer the expensive, tailored look exemplified by Cochran, most famous for his successful defense of O.J. Simpson. Twenty-two percent of this group said they would react positively to a lawyer in expensive clothing, vs. 14 percent who preferred plain clothes. Even with this group, however, it probably is still a bad idea to accessorize with leather gloves and Bruno Magli loafers. Thirty-one percent said they would react more positively to a lawyer wearing no jewelry than to one with flashy jewelry. Only 3 percent said that they liked the flashy look. Jurors under 25, however, more likely to be pierced and tattooed than their older counterparts, were much more open to jewelry. Thirteen percent said they would react positively to flashy jewelry, although 29 percent still preferred no jewelry. When it comes to hairstyle, potential jurors preferring erring on the conservative side. Male lawyers with short hair got a positive reaction from 23 percent, while long hair was favored by just 3 percent. The rest had no preference. Again, although young jurors were more open to a less conservative look than older jurors, they still preferred short hair almost 3-to-1. Women have a little more leeway. Most potential jurors didn’t care whether a female attorney has long or short hair, although long hair got a slight nod. Still, it is always possible to find lawyers who break the rules and succeed. Kuby, for example, wears his long hair in a ponytail while advocating for some of New York’s most controversial defendants. Once a prot�g� of radical lawyer William Kunstler, Kuby says his long hair has attained the status of a personal trademark, much like the glasses the late Kunstler always had perched on top of his head. The way lawyers present their cases can also affect juror perceptions. Seventy-six percent said that they would respond negatively to a lawyer who shouted at a witness to prove a point. And a surprising number of respondents — 29 percent — said they would respond negatively to a lawyer who presented an in-court simulation of the facts using computers or video. Less surprising, the oldest respondents, 65 and over, were about twice as technophobic about such techniques as the youngest, aged 18 to 24. A similar overall number — 28 percent — said they would react negatively to an attorney who made lengthy presentations in court to present all the details of a case. NOT FUNNY Even humor can be a problem with jurors, the survey indicates. While 23 percent of those polled said they’d react positively to a lawyer who made a few jokes, 38 percent said they would prefer a no-nonsense approach. The rest had no preference. Senior citizens were even less likely to be impressed by in-court cut-ups. Fully half of jurors over age 65 would prefer a no-nonsense presentation, against just 15 percent who said they would welcome a few jokes. So while a little humor can lighten up a long trial, here again, it pays to be conservative. And even with the most receptive jury, it’s probably not a good idea to refer to a party as a “hockey puck.” For trial lawyers who find this advice a little stifling, there’s some good news: If you don’t mind offending the minority, you can take all that pent-up creativity and pour it into opening and closing statements. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they would react positively to emotional statements. “When it’s truly emotion that comes from belief in your case, jurors can understand why you’re emotional,” says Dennis C. Sweet III, of Langston, Sweet & Freese in Jackson, Miss., who has won quite a few multimillion-dollar verdicts, including a $145 million award against Ford Motor Co. in 1998. “It’s only when you’re trying to be emotional, acting or selling it, that it can really work against you.” JURY-BOX BIASES Personal characteristics aren’t the only hurdle that a successful trial lawyer has to overcome to win cases. Poll responses also suggest that jury pools are filled with independent, often biased people who can make it difficult for some clients to get a fair hearing. Nearly half of potential jurors, 45 percent, agreed that in reaching a verdict, jurors should disregard a judge’s instructions if they believe that justice will best be served by doing so. Sixty-nine percent of respondents aged 18 to 24 would ignore the judge in those circumstances. On the other hand, 98 percent of respondents who had actually served on juries said they had followed the judge’s instructions in their cases. Big business isn’t too popular. Seventy-six percent of respondents agreed that “executives of big companies often try to cover up the harm they do.” “They understand and realize that these corporations are making decisions about people’s lives based on money,” says Tab Turner, a Little Rock, Ark., lawyer who represented clients in many personal injury and wrongful-death cases against Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/ Firestone Inc. before this summer’s massive recall of defective Firestone tires. Turner says that in his experience, about half the people in jury focus groups have an anti-corporate mindset. So he’s a little surprised by the survey’s higher numbers. “In part, it must be a reflection of the fact that Ford and Firestone have been so bad,” he says. In other bad news for corporate defendants, most jurors seem to be catching on to the fact that many big jury awards get reduced by the trial judge or on appeal. Sixty-three percent agreed that “huge jury awards grab headlines when announced, but most get thrown out or reduced on appeal,” And 22 percent said that this year’s $145 billion punitive damage verdict in a Florida tobacco lawsuit makes it more likely they would award larger punitive damages as a juror. Thirty percent said they feel that to send an effective message to a big corporation, it is necessary to award billions of dollars. On the other hand, only about a third knew that a punitive damages award is a windfall awarded to the plaintiff. The rest either didn’t know or believed, wrongly, that the judge or jury gets to decide where the money goes. Some potential jurors admitted they were biased against particular parties, whether plaintiff or defendant. A significant minority of respondents said that they could not be impartial if a party were gay or lesbian (31%); Hispanic (25%); black (24%); Asian (24%); or Caucasian (23%). Others were biased against particular occupations or industries: white supremacists (48 percent); tobacco companies (34 percent); gun manufacturers (32 percent); HMOs (32 percent); asbestos manufacturers (31 percent); breast implant manufacturers (29 percent); corporate executives (27 percent); hospitals (25 percent); doctors (24 percent); tire manufacturers (24 percent); and police officers (23 percent). Interestingly, for many of the categories, about 20 percent more responded that they could not be “impartial” than the percentage who said they could not be “fair and impartial,” the question asked in the 1999 survey. “Simply asking a juror if he can be fair is not getting at the real issue,” says David Davis of DecisionQuest. “I think people think they can be fair and partial.” Davis recalls one juror in an asbestos liability trial who insisted she could be fair, even though she seemed very likely to award the plaintiff lots of money. Davis sums up her viewpoint: “I can be fair because the fair thing to do is award millions of dollars to this plaintiff.” Still, Davis recognizes a second possible explanation for the huge difference between this year’s and last year’s responses. Some of the potential jurors may not know what the word “impartial” means.

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