Post-verdict questionnaires and interviews are two of the most valuable, yet underutilized, resources for trial attorneys. Here are eight recommendations, gleaned from years of listening to feedback straight from jurors’ lips.
1. Jurors know when a lawyer is unprepared. No matter how much an attorney tries to hide it, jurors will pick up on a lack of preparation and hold it against counsel and client. One juror summed it up on his post-verdict questionnaire: “The defense attorneys were unorganized and unprepared. I believe (I swear) all of them must have read the court brief while boarding a plane.”
2. Relate to the jurors. Consider the following statements from jurors: “I didn’t like anything about jury service,” “I disliked everything about being a juror,” and “I’m just glad it’s over!”
These comments are not all that surprising. But what is surprising is the rarity with which attorneys acknowledge these feelings in the courtroom. Aside from starting voir dire with a joke about jury duty being the last place anyone wants to be, how many lawyers genuinely acknowledge the sacrifice made by the impaneled jurors?
Jurors notice and appreciate lawyers who do: “I thought the attorney was pretty good. He related to us more and I got the sense that he felt for us. It was like he knew what the jury was going through.”
3. Use repetition strategically. Although jurors consider some repetition necessary and helpful, they have told us that they do not appreciate an attorney who belabors each argument. Jurors frequently complain about attorneys who are repetitive to the point of being obnoxious. But don’t mistake the target of this complaint with the important task reinforcing a case theme or critical evidence.
Some repetition is essential because jurors learn differently and at different speeds. One juror conveyed this point: “The attorney tried to drill some points in too far and I was like ok, I got it. But that was probably necessary in order for him to reach everyone on the jury.”
4. Stick to the facts. “Stick to the facts” is one of the most common pieces of advice that we hear jurors offer attorneys. Most often, jurors tell us that they’re distracted by unnecessary theatrics, unrelated evidence and what they see as unneeded antagonism between sides. Worse, such tactics offend some jurors, who perceive them as a waste of time and a sign of disrespect for their sacrifice in serving.
5. Don’t twist the truth. The following two quotations say it all:
“I felt like the attorney was stretching the truth and trying to twist anything he could to make a case. He tried to place blame where I felt like it didn’t belong. I also found him to be insincere because I felt like he knew what he was doing and that he knew he didn’t have a case.”
“If he could have taken a more honest/straightforward approach, I think he would have been more effective. I got the sense that he was trapping people in their words. … I thought it felt dishonest.”
Jurors have told us that, once an attorney starts “stretching the truth” and “trapping people in their words,” they doubt his or her ability to prove the case, they begin to sympathize and connect more with the other side, and/or they begin to question the attorney’s character because they interpret such actions as unprofessional and dishonest.
6. Not all visual aids are created equal. Jurors continually comment on the effectiveness of visual aids. Post-verdict feedback has taught us that the most effective visual aids are rarely the costly, high tech graphics. Instead, jurors say that the most powerful aids are the ones that are simple, straightforward and easy to comprehend.
One juror made a point to comment on the effectiveness of a basic flip chart: “I think using the pad and marker during his closing argument was a good decision because it allowed the jury to reconnect with his points as he was going through them.” The most important tip regarding visual aids: Keep it simple.
7. Timelines work. Question: What evidence was the most helpful?
Juror response: “The timeline of events.”
Question: What was your impression of the plaintiff’s attorney?
Juror response: “A good communicator. He walked the jurors through the timeline and sequence of events.”
We can’t emphasize timelines enough. Time and again, jurors have told us that they appreciate the use of a timeline because it provides a framework from which to conceptualize the case.
8. Humanize the client. Plaintiffs attorneys, consider the following advice offered by a juror:
“I feel like the Plaintiff’s attorney would have had more leverage if he brought in religion. For example, he could have mentioned if [the Plaintiff] was active in a church. Most of us on the jury were religious people—most of us were Christians—and we all wondered about that. I feel like it would have been appropriate for the attorney to mention it because he talked about how active [the Plaintiff] was at her job, and I think it could have changed some of the other jurors’ opinions if he had made a point to bring it up.”
Defense attorneys, consider the following advice from a juror:
“I felt like the Defense attorney could have milked some sympathy for [his clients] by emphasizing that they are people like you and me, and that they never intended for this accident to happen. I can understand why he might not have wanted to do that, but that was just one thought that went through my head because those guys really weren’t the villains.”
The takeaway: Investing the time to get to know the client leads to better trial performance. Taking the time to connect with the individual or entity you’re representing will allow you to present your client in a manner that is more complete, more personable and more genuine—all three of which are things that the jury will pick up on and interpret to your advantage.