Jurors are the single most important part of a trial. They decide who wins and who loses. While it is easy to focus on the arguments and the presentation of evidence - all of which are important - it is vital to remember who is actually deciding the case. Arguments do not decide cases. Evidence does not decide cases. Jurors decide cases.
Voir Dire is the only time during the trial in which the attorneys actually get to talk with the jurors. Through Voir Dire, attorneys can strike problematic jurors, but, perhaps more importantly, it allows the attorneys to connect with the jurors. It is the first impressions jurors get of the attorneys and of the case… and first impressions are hard to change. It is vital to get Voir Dire right.
Through our thirty years of jury research experience, we have discovered a few tips to help you with your next Voir Dire:
1. Show The Jurors You Respect Their Time
Let’s be honest. Very few people want to be jurors--most are busy people with hundreds of other things they could be doing. When conducting Voir Dire, show the jurors that you respect their time. Speak quickly and energetically. It is good to tell the jurors a bit about yourself, but a few sentences about your background and family is sufficient. Move quickly around the courtroom as you talk. Have your questions prepared and know what you are going to ask and when you are going to ask it.
2. Listen to Their Answers
One of the most valuable things an advocate can do during Voir Dire is to listen to the answers of the jurors. Use your body language and responses to show that you heard their answers and care about what they said. Everyone wants to be listened to, and jurors are no different. By listening, you will win favor with the jurors and it will help you decide whom to strike and how to focus your argument.
3. Ask Who They Admire
To successfully argue a case, you need to quickly learn what is important to each juror. You need to know what makes each of them “tick” so that you can focus your argument accordingly. One of the best ways we have discovered to do this is by asking each juror whom they admire and why. This will allow you to learn a bit about each juror in an efficient manner. As you argue your case, speak to what is important to each juror.
4. Righting a Wrong--"what good will money do?"
Money is how we compensate injured people in this country. Many jurors, especially in more conservative regions of the country, struggle with this idea. If you are trying to get jurors to award money, establish the concept of using money to compensate for an injury as soon as possible. Ultimately, You want jurors who are willing to right a wrong with money. So, craft questions that will promote this idea and allow you to see who is willing to adopt such an idea.
On the other hand, if you do not want the jurors to award money, starting pushing the idea that money is an inappropriate remedy. Start with broad questions like “Is money an adequate remedy for injury?” and move to more case particular questions. You need to know what each juror thinks about the power, or lack thereof, of money.
5. Avoid Confusing or Overly-Broad Questions
Remember the feeling of being asked a confusing question in front of all your classmates? It is not pleasant. Avoid doing the same to jurors. No person wants to be asked a question they cannot answer in front of room full of people. Make your questions clear, but also ask questions that could have numerous good answers. You want the jurors to honestly say what they think and not feel bad about their answer. Stick with basic questions that jurors are comfortable answering. In a recent case, one of the jurors said that he did not like it when the attorney “started forcing himself on me with one-sided questions and a lot of silly rhetorical questions... I don't like getting pushed into corners with that kind of lawyer-stuff. It doesn't work for me."
6. Remember the Names of the Jurors
Although difficult, remembering the last name of all the jurors is impressive. It will make the jurors feel valued. Remembering their names will also show that you are intelligent and thus make it easier for the jurors to respect you and want to follow your lead. There are numerous techniques to help you remember all their names. Take the time to learn one.
7. Voir Dire Should Lay the Foundation for Your Entire Argument
Every moment before the jury is valuable. Make sure that the questions you ask during Voir Dire are advancing your entire argument. Do not be afraid to ask questions that involve facts about the case. The more they can hear about the case from you the better. If a question does not advance your case, you probably should not ask it. Only ask questions you need to know.
8. Make the Jurors Comfortable with the Number You Want Them to Award
Most cases are about money. You want the jurors to be comfortable awarding the amount you believe is fair. So, the more you say the amount you want them to award, the better. The repetition will make the jurors more comfortable with the idea. During Voir Dire, talk about the medical bills. Talk about the pain and suffering. Normalize your number so that they will feel comfortable awarding it.
Voir Dire is important. It is worth doing well. Don’t waste precious time before the jury. Show the jurors that they can trust you. Listen to their answers. Respect the time of everyone in the courtroom. By making a few changes, you can begin to win the jury in the first hours of the trial.
Contact First Court to learn more about how we can help you prepare to excel in your next Voir Dire.