Thursday, June 10, 2010

Idiosyncrasies in the Court Room.

The jury is watching and never forgets quirky behavior or outlandish comments. Unfortunately, these etiquette mistakes happen time and time again and can be very damaging to any presentation. The court room is quite literally a stage and every trial is a show. So why does this matter so much? After all the jury is just a bunch of mindless dolts who don’t understand complicated concepts, correct? They have the attention span of a wet noodle and wont notice that much, eh?

Wrong! While I am on the subject I want to address the ultimate courtroom presentation mistake: Talking down to your jury. Years ago I experienced perhaps the worst example of this behavior by a seasoned trial lawyer. The case was semi complicated and involved lots of anatomy in the lower back. During direct examination the doctor read directly from his report (another mistake for a future blog entry) and was far from being a teaching witness. After the doctor had completed his reading our trial lawyer said, “Ok doctor you and I know what that means but can you please explain it to the jury.”

I was sitting in the back of the courtroom working on some last minute exhibits and just paused. What I heard (and the jury) was, “doctor you and I know what that means but can you please explain it to the 12 idiots over here”. This is a classic example of talking down to the jury. Explaining things in a manner that is more digestible for the layman is one thing. But suggesting in any fashion that you are more intelligent, superior or educated then your panel can be very detrimental to your case. Be mindful of language used and the reaction it will have on the jury when asking a witness questions.

Other idiosyncrasies which I see now and again deal with attire. For some reason at least once a year I encounter someone on a case team who wears the same suit every day. Well that is at least the perception the jury is left with. Obviously these individuals own multiple copies of the same suit. Perhaps this is done in an attempt to be neutral? Easily recognizable? Or perhaps it is just a favorite suit or some sort of voodoo good luck charm? What ever the reason I guarantee the jury is scratching their heads in curiosity. I’m not sure what the logic is behind this quirky behavior but suits should be rotated. In the very least a different blouse, shirt or tie be should be worn. Mix it up and keep them interested! Especially in a trial which is going to last several weeks.

Also when it comes to attire remember to shine your shoes. Nothing looks more unprofessional then an expensive suit with completely scuffed up shoes. That just screams a lack of attention to detail. Worse are the shoes which look like they were cleaned with a Hershey bar. As always I will continue to preach that the jury is watching you. They will make assumptions about you based solely on these very important observations.

The jury will become distracted by even more peculiar dress habits such as wearing suspenders AND a belt. In all my years in this industry I have never quite understood the reasoning behind that practice. Suspenders are a very dapper accessory that will never go out of style. Wearing them with a belt however will never be in style. Just some friendly advice…it looks ridiculous.

Finally, body language is very important and trial lawyers need to be very mindful of it. Jurors will be distracted by nervous or strange ongoing habits they are presented with. For example I once worked in a trial where one of the lawyers constantly re-adjusted his tie. At one point during a heated discussion I observed a member of the jury mimicking this individual. It was quite obvious at that very moment some of the jury was not paying attention to the testimony but rather the comedy show.

Drastic changes in body language are always picked up on by the jury. For example if during direct examination the trial lawyer acts one way and then changes during the cross. Making faces or reacting emotionally and outwardly to questions asked by opposing counsel is often a bad idea. The last thing the case team needs is the jury even considering professionalism has been compromised.

In closing I would just like to point out according to an oft cited study, “body language comprises 55% ( total communication), whereas verbal content only provides 7%,” the other 38% consists of intonation, tone, sighs etc. (Raudsepp 2002). The jury is watching, listening and latching on to idiosyncrasies in the courtroom. Avoid that at all costs and keep them concentrating on the testimony and facts of your case.

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