August 03, 2011
Sensitive Litigation Moment No. 5: To Jurors, Do Your Associates & Paralegals Seem Like Stone Creeps?
Jurors are not dumb. They 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 likable, amiable, fair and genuinely good-hearted.
Well? Do they? Because if they do, that's Bad. But there are things you can do--so please pay attention:
Jurors, to begin with, 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.
Creep Control. Now hear this: don't go out of your way to antagonize jurors with sideshows which have nothing to do with the trial itself. Bring no "creeps" with you to trial. Keep them in the office. If they must show up--even for a moment--teach them to "un-creep" themselves, starting at 60 second intervals, and practicing until they can hold out for five minutes at a stretch. Hint: They pretend they are happy confident people who genuinely like other humans. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat. And remember, you seek progress--not perfection. Be gentle at first.
Non-Creeps--and Recovering Creeps Who Under Pressure of Trial May Relapse in Public. Bring to trial no "non-creeps" capable of any snide, "mean" or creepy gesture, facial expression or body language glitch lasting more than one half-second. Instruct your non-creeps to read this post to be on the safe side. Reformed creeps--you spotted them early and sent them to rehab but they are ultimately powerless over they way they look or act--need pep talks, and brief courtroom appearances. See above.
A Note on Nerds. In doses, however, a few generic dweebs and law weenies running in and out of the courtroom carrying a huge box of documents, a phone message from your wife about Nantucket next summer with the Bloors, a good luck note from your mistress, your lucky bow-tie, your spats, your black cape with red lining, or your reserve pair of Bass Weejuns--the kind of people you routinely made fun of in high school--is okay. Jurors expect that. You're a lawyer. You live in a world where nerds are almost normal. Jurors get and tolerate that.
But jurors just don't like self-important "assisting creeps". That's really personal.
Let us explain more.
About ten years ago, 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 some jurors right after the trial--and were told by all but one of them that they were seriously annoyed 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: "take that" and "your sufferings will be legendary, chumps"--that kind of thing. Harmless macho stuff.
And 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 (and they lost.) But their behavior, even subtle things, may have tipped the balance.
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.
(from several previous WAC? posts)
Posted by JD Hull at August 3, 2011 11:59 PM