I have been practicing law for more than a decade now, and I like to think of myself as an expert in the field. It’s a complicated industry, but it is an absolutely crucial one; without it, some of us may never find justice. And because of my expertise and belief in fighting for what is right, I feel as though it is my duty to pass on my knowledge to up-and-coming lawyers.
For those that are unaware, the jury trial is any case or proceeding that will be determined by a jury as opposed to the judge. This is a very different type of case, and requires practice and tact. The overwhelming majority of cases settle before ever going to trial. Of those that go to trial, only some are decided by a jury. For this reason, one of the most difficult, and nerve-wracking, aspects of being a lawyer is the jury trial. It can be tough and it will always be a learning experience, particularly for novice lawyers.
So, here are a few tips and tricks on how to prepare for your first jury trial.
There Will Be Pressure
Knowing this from the very beginning will help you, at least mentally. Whenever handling a case, there is always a certain amount of pressure, no question about it. However, with a jury trial, that pressure can be amped up to 11. Think about all of the moving variables: you have to speak clearly and concisely, you have to be prepared to handle any and all objections and opposing evidence, you need to be commanding and you need to do this in front of a jury of strangers. People that you’ve never met before, and will likely never see again afterwards, will be deciding the fate of your client. You only have one chance to impress the panel of “judges,” so to speak. In fact, in law If you are not a natural public speaker, then you need to learn quickly. You can know the law backwards and forwards and be one of the greatest litigators in existence, but if you cannot communicate effectively, you are essentially useless in a courtroom. Know the pressure and anticipate it.
This comes naturally to me, but I understand that being prepared isn’t everyone’s forte. However, if you want to be a successful lawyer, particularly in a jury trial, you’ll need to be prepared. Be organized and know your case. The last thing you want is to seem unprepared to the jury; it will make your case seem less compelling if you’re stumbling around trying to answer questions from the judge or opposing counsel. Read over your depositions, know the evidence and incorporate that into your direct and cross examinations and prepare for your opening and closing arguments; prepare for questions that you think you might have to answer; don’t just prepare yourself, prepare your client. Get him or her up to speed on what he needs to say, how he should answer and when. It may be my experience as a career Naval Officer but repeated rehearsal is the key. I have had clients who have admonished rehearsals only to find that they fall apart on the witness stand because they haven’t practiced what they had planned to say. The real fear in jury trials is the fear of not knowing what will happen. If you have a gameplan in place and you execute that plan to perfection, then you should do just fine.
Your first jury trial is a nerve-wracking experience. It is frightening for everyone who is just starting out. Fear is a great motivator because it provides you the opportunity to conquer your fears. But fear is also a fallacy, it presupposes something that may not ever happen and hence there is no point perseverating on possible outcomes. You must instead focus on commanding the courtroom to the best of your abilities, even if that means faking your experience. If you are ever taken unaware, do not panic and public. The greatest litigators create the illusion that they already knew that the question before it was asked. Take a moment to think and pause; real life isn’t like a movie or television where every lawyer has a snappy answer ready at a moment’s notice. Real humans need to think and process information. Between stimulus and response is a time period which you alone control. If that means that you have to take a second to collect your thoughts, and your composure, that’s fine. Ask the judge for a recess. Do not, under any circumstances, panic. More importantly, do not let your client, or the jury, know that you are panicking; if the jury gets the slightest hint that you’re panicking, it could mean losing their confidence, and the entire case.
Jurors Are People
⅓ of Jurors are not going to like your client, ⅓ are going to like your client and ⅓ could care less about your client or the trial. Your job is not to convince the ⅓ who do not like your client to start liking you. Your job is to convince the ⅓ who could care less to start caring about your case. People are different and jurors are different so there’s no magic recipe to winning juror’s favor, but here’s some tips:
Wear normal lawyer clothes (i.e. either a suit or a suit) and change your clothes each day of trial. I’ve seen jurors comment on the fact that the attorney wore the same tie two days in a row!
Do not favor one particular juror or class of jurors (e.g. just the females, only those who indicated they support same-sex marriage etc). This means when you have something to say to the jury address the entire box and when you make eye-contact try to look at different jurors each time.
Pause to give emphasis on important parts of your case. Slow down if you are engaged in overly technical matters.
Being a lawyer is difficult, and handling your first jury trial is rough, but it is most certainly not impossible. If you prepare yourself and stay cool, calm and collected, then you have a good shot at winning the case. Hopefully, it will be the first of a long series of successful cases.