Posted On: September 25, 2010

Voir Dire and the Internet

With more and more courthouses providing easy Internet access to attorneys, it seems you now have no excuse for poor voir dire preparation. According to the New Jersey Law Journal, an appeals court in New Jersey has ruled that it’s perfectly fine for trial lawyers to bring their laptop computers to court and Google prospective jurors at the counsel table. The ruling overturned a trial judge’s decision to force a plaintiff’s counsel to turn off his laptop computer because it gave him an advantage over his less tech-prepared adversary.

In overturning the trial judge’s ruling, the court pointed out that just because plaintiff’s counsel “had the foresight to bring his laptop computer to court and defense counsel did not, simply cannot serve as a basis for judicial intervention in the name of fairness.” The wireless Internet service, the court reasoned, was available to both sides equally.

There are at least two points here to keep in mind. First, take your voir dire seriously. Make use of every opportunity you have to get to know the candidates in your jury pool. This entails asking good questions that uncover their leanings and predispositions, reading facial and body cues, and, especially now, researching each potential juror – using all the information that is available to you in the public domain. You never know what you’ll find. With so many of us broadcasting our political leanings, tastes and habits online, trial lawyers can’t afford to ignore the Internet. Second, stay current in all the technology that’s out there. And be prepared to use it to your advantage. Today it’s Google with Wi-Fi access. Tomorrow, who knows?

But always remember that innovative voir dire techniques must be consistent with ethics and professional responsibility. Moreover, your voir dire must also conform to the practices within the jurisdiction and court in which you are trying the case.

Bookmark and Share

Posted On: September 3, 2010

Secrets of Persuading A Jury

crowdscene.jpg It's no secret that the general public has a low opinion of lawyers. That means you – as a trial lawyer – are at a disadvantage with a jury before you’ve even uttered your first syllable in court. Nevertheless, there are steps you can take to diminish jurors’ skepticism about you and your case.

For one thing, refrain from calling the party you represent your “client.” Always use the person’s name. Every time you say “my client,” you remind the jury of your role as a “hired gun.” Obviously the jury knows this is your role, but it certainly doesn’t need emphasizing.

Also, in court as in life, honesty is the best policy. Don’t try to conceal negative facts about your case: confront them head-on. Not only does that enhance your personal credibility, but it also minimizes the impact of those facts. If the jury doesn’t hear about the weaknesses of your case until the other side takes to the floor, your integrity will be questioned and the bad news that’s delivered by the other side will come across as even more incriminating.

Speak to the jury expressly in terms of the truth of the circumstances, and your hope for a fair and just resolution of the dispute. By talking about truth and fairness as shared values, you reinforce in the jury’s mind your own adherence to these values. As part of the same theme, avoid asserting facts that the jury is unlikely to believe. It’s better to omit details that will only undermine your credibility than confront a jury with information that just doesn’t sound plausible, regardless of its authenticity.

Finally, be nice. This may be easier said than done. The New York Times observed, “One reason companies lose lawsuits is that they are represented by obnoxious counsel.” So smile. Be civil. Never talk down to your audience. Use voir dire to establish rapport with jurors. And never appear hostile to the opposing side.

Bookmark and Share