Recently, the Cornell Law Review Online published an article written by a federal district judge in Chicago. The judge, who had presided over hundreds of jury trials, decided to conduct an informal survey of more than 500 jurors who had served in her courtroom to analyze what mattered most to jurors. The article, entitled What Juries Really Think: Practical Guidance For Trial Lawyers, by the Honorable Amy J. St. Eve and Gretchen Scavo, can be found here.
The judge asked open-ended questions in her survey and grouped the jurors’ responses into common themes. Here’s what she found. The most common theme that emerged from the survey was that an attorney’s organization, preparation, and efficiency mattered to jurors. An organized, prepared, and efficient lawyer doesn’t waste time, and time mattered to the jurors. They wished that attorneys stipulated to more facts. They also disliked sidebars, which took a great deal of time. Many of the jurors believed that sidebars reflected a lack of preparation.
What else matters to juries? An attorney’s delivery of his/her case. Did the attorney speak loudly and clearly, make eye contact with the jurors, use a casual tone and not display theatrics, etc.? Often defense attorneys are looking for the “Perry Mason moment” during trial. But jurors thought resorting to drama made the attorney’s case appear weak.
Also, the attorney’s professionalism during the trial was noticed by juries. How did the attorney interact with others in the courtroom? Jurors disliked when attorneys bickered with one another or displayed unprofessional behavior. They also were bothered by the way attorneys treated witnesses. Not surprisingly, jurors viewed witnesses in a favorable manner and did not appreciate when attorneys attempted to belittle or embarrass them.
Ok…but what about the case itself? Jurors disliked when an attorney asked the same questions repeatedly or asked long, complicated questions. Jurors also interpreted seemingly irrelevant questions as a waste of time and, even worse, as an intentional attempt to confuse the jury.
As for what they liked about the evidence, they appreciated the use of technology, especially when the attorney was efficient at using it. They also liked when the attorney presented evidence in chronological order.
The biggest takeaway from this article, at least for me as an appellate attorney, is that closing arguments matter to jurors much more than opening statements. Therefore, objections made or prosecutorial misconduct alleged might have a more prejudicial impact if done during closing than in opening statements.
The article is full of other helpful information for trial attorneys looking to improve their trial skills. Check it out here.