Julie Campanini recently published an excellent article in Lawyers USA offering a number of suggestions for improving trial skills. From her experiences during trials combined with years of speaking with jurors, she noticed that many lawyers tend to unknowingly act in ways which place them in a negative light for the jury. Below is a list describing some of the issues she noticed. As a Massachusetts OUI lawyer, I found these suggestions extremely helpful and encourage trials lawyers to read the recent article.
• Act genuinely- It is important for defense lawyers to be themselves in the courtroom and allow elements of their personality to show. Jurors are intimidated by overly formal lawyers, so it is good to relax and show the jury that they can relate to you on a personal level rather than just a “business” level. Jurors, like everyone else, are more likely to believe you if they can empathize and trust what you are saying.
• Act respectively- It is common for opposing counsel to subconsciously intimidate one another with statements and mannerisms which may come across as rude or disrespectful. Campanini mentions how the most successful lawyers are those who treat everyone in the courtroom with respect, so that their statements are taken more seriously and with higher levels of consideration. Over-zealous or short tempered lawyers are least likely to create a positive impression on the jury, as they simply appear arrogant or insecure.
During an OUI trial, this advice means we do not always have to attack the police officer. In many cases, we can argue the officer did his job, but did not have the difficult job of the jury in deciding if there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. While typically most attorneys are respectful with opposing counsel, it is important to make sure the jury is on your side with the manner of your attack on a police officer.
• Act honestly- From her personal research, Campinini has found the best lawyers to be those who admit to their mistakes. Too many lawyers fear the jury will lose respect for their defense if they realize a mistake was made, but everyone in the courtroom is human so if anything, the jury will relate to you further if you are confident enough to be honest. Putting this into practice means we must acknowledge the obvious weakness in our cases.
• Engage the jury- Many lawyers have the tendency to overly complicate their stories. Instead of stating things in a simple, personable way, they use too much legal terminology and lose the jury as an engaged audience. It is important to remember that jurors already know that you are smart, there is no need to prove your intelligence to them for an influential story. The best told stories are those which maintain the jury’s attention, with clear, concise and logical statements that are easy to follow.
For other great resources on improving trial skills, I would recommend reading Gerry Spence’s book, win your case or visiting his Trial College Website which lists live seminar events and has featured articles. Any lawyers in Massachusetts interested in attending a national seminar or local one on trial skills, can contact me I would be happy to share with you my experience at some recent events.