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September 14, 2007

"Maintaining" in front of juries: do your trial associates seem like creeps?

Juries are not dumb and miss little. They watch you and yours in the courtroom, the back of the courtroom, hallways, restrooms, parking lots, restaurants. Whether or not you think the people you bring to trial with you are capable of looking or acting like stone "creeps" at any moment during the roller-coaster ride of a trial, explain to these men and women in advance the importance of "maintaining" a demeanor which appears professional yet likeable, amiable, fair and genuinely good-hearted.

Jurors, of course, will always surprise you. No matter what an expert might tell you, or how hard you've worked at selection, you are always wrong about two or three of them. You've heard that. Now hear this: don't go out of your way to antagonize jurors with sideshows which have nothing to do with the trial itself.

In 1997, after a two-and-a-half week trial, we won a jury defense verdict in a breach of contract and fraud trial involving three established companies and a super-nail biter which no one could call. Everyone had "bad" facts to deal with. All counsel and most witnesses did a fine job. An honest, fair, bright and even-tempered judge

presided.

So we interviewed a few of the more earnest, intelligent jurors right after the trial--and were told by all but one of them that they were seriously non-plussed by some of the sneers, body language, guffaws and antics of the fire-breathing "let's kick some ass" associates and paralegals in the firms helping the plaintiff and the co-defendant in and out of the courtroom. This seemed to happen a lot with two younger lawyers (I knew them both--nice people, usually...) in the same firm who sat together in the court room smirking and cockily approaching counsel's table bearing a note or message with an attitude that said "let's see how our wretched and low adversaries handle this one" and "your sufferings will be legendary, chumps"--that kind of thing. Just nice kids getting really into it. But in our interviews, some of the jurors used words like "creeps", "jerks" and worse to describe these people. The law firm's culprits were just over-jazzed, over-confident, over-macho and young. But their behavior, even subtle things, may have tipped the balance. Jurors don't like "creeps in suits".

Don't screw up hard work and a client's chances at trial with mean-spirited sideshows confirming what many jurors thought about many lawyers anyway. Jurors are watching you, your attending GC, client representative and/or your witnesses AND your associates and paralegals like hawks: in and out of session, in the halls, in the back of the courtroom, restrooms, parking lots, restaurants. Very little is missed. Whether or not you think your trial people (men or women) are capable of looking or acting like "creeps" and robots of war at any moment during the roller-coaster ride of a trial, explain to them in advance the importance of "maintaining" a demeanor which appears professional yet fair, friendly, amiable and genuinely good-hearted. Better yet, hire only those people to help you present your case to a jury.

Posted by JD Hull at September 14, 2007 11:23 PM

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