Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to assist a partner in a jury trial. I had only recently been admitted to the Bar, and had only been employed by Keis George for a few months, so the chance to assist in one of our large loss property cases was a rare opportunity that I wasn’t expecting. Still, it was an opportunity which I expected to take full advantage of.
Apart from completing law school and participating in a few mock trials, this was the first real jury trial I had the opportunity to participate in as an actual licensed attorney. My official role was to assist in any capacity and to pick up on anything we could use to our advantage, but I also had the personal goal of absorbing as much as I could and using those observations to evolve.
My preconceived notion about what the jury would be like was completely off base. I knew jury selection would be a crucial part of the case, but I did not realize exactly how crucial it was. I would liken the jury selection process to that of making allies on the television show Survivor. The twelve people that are selected hold the entire case in their hands. While the attorneys get to tell the story, it’s the twelve who decide how it all ends. While a neutral, unbiased panel is what the law prefers, in reality, that’s never the case, and it’s the job of the attorney to select those whose conclusion lines up with theirs. No matter how good at presenting a case you are, you’re done if you are stuck with a few overbearing jurors who refuse to empathize with your story.
The hard part about all this is that you can’t get a good read into the mindset of a juror. You can ask the pool of jurors questions, but you have to take their answers at face value or try to read their nonverbal signals. The truth is, you could have a home run case, but if a few jurors see themselves in a defendant’s shoes or relate to them for reasons unknown, you’re a dead man walking.
Once the trial actually kicked off, I was very impressed with the awareness and amount of detail the jurors paid attention to. The case involved a condominium fire, which may sound exciting, but trust me, it wasn’t. Not once did a juror nod off or look like they were daydreaming.
At one point defense counsel mentioned something that we did not believe was relevant. However, because they brought it up, we addressed it. After the trial was over, we spoke with the jury and they had many questions about that topic. What was the point of that testimony? While we didn’t know why defense counsel had chosen to bring it up, the jurors wanted it to lead somewhere. These jurors wanted a conclusion to every story, and they believed that every fact presented was a piece of some larger puzzle. Though the jurors felt like they were missing something, in fact they were missing nothing, proving that they indeed had a great understanding of the case.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to interpretation. Much like a piece of art, something could be a duck to you and a rabbit to someone else. It’s easy to get caught up in a file and think you have a great shot at a favorable outcome. That’s not always the case. You look over every fact and detail for two years, and skew things, even if unintentionally, in your favor. A neutral fact always seems a little bit more positive to you. The reality is that people are always doubtful and skeptical of attorneys. A good attorney quashes those fears by presenting the truth and the real story in a genuine way. Based upon that trial, I now know just how important it is to have a real connection with the jury and to be a great storyteller. Just as a kid always asks why, so does an attentive and engaged jury. Just make sure to have an answer.