Tag Archives: testimony

Will You Give These Jurors What They Want?

jury1A couple of weeks ago, I sent fellow blogger and trial consultant Rich Matthews an email asking if he would comment on a post I was thinking about writing. It would be called “Avoid These Five Ways Of Alienating The Jury.” I was expecting him to provide a laundry list of “don’t dos” if you want to stay on a jury’s good side, such as wearing a bow tie,† showing up late, interrupting witnesses, etc.

Instead, Rich offered a much shorter list of ways–just two–to give the jury what they want and expect. On reflection, Rich’s list of “dos” made much more sense than my proposed list of “don’ts”. Here’s what Rich said:

“I think jurors want two and only two things from counsel, and get alienated easily when these are violated: help with understanding the material, and not wasting their time. That’s it. As obvious as that might sound, all courtroom lawyers should do a really honest reflection on their own trials and notice how many times they run afoul of either or both of these unconscious demands jurors have. That third witness you put on to say basically the same thing? Wasting jurors’ time, and they will resent you for it. That technical witness who was not understandable to them? Flunked both. A closing argument that didn’t explain [relevant rules, damages, verdict form, whatever] well enough? Didn’t help them with the material. I suggest that as counsel is planning the trial sequence, run everything through that filter; will it help jurors understand the material, and does it waste their time as THEY will judge it? Unless it’s ‘yes’ to the first AND ‘no’ to the second, leave it out. (Bonus hint: the first place to look is your witness list. Most of the time, lawyers would be better served to use fewer witnesses than they do. Wasting time in this manner just frustrates jurors if they don’t perceive each additional witness is adding new information or understanding.)”

Rich’s suggestion that what the jury wants most is help understanding the material echoes a point Professor McElhaney makes in the opening chapter of Litigation, entitled “The Guide.” He writes:

“You are the guide who knows the territory, the one who can be trusted to steer the jury straight throughout the entire trial.

Does it work? Imagine for a moment: Suddenly you find yourself in the middle of an unknown swamp. You don’t know where you are or how you got there. All you know is that somehow you  have to find your way out. You have no compass. There are no roads or trails, no signs or maps, no shadows or guiding stars. As you look around, you see two people, each saying there is only one way out. The problem is, each one is pointing in a different direction.

Which one do you follow–the one who has the suitcase with the collapsible legs, who wants to sell you one of the watches on his wrist; or the one who is pointing out landmarks and is helping you understand the terrain?” (Litigation (ABA 1995), at 4.)

Rich’s point about not offering duplicative testimony which the jurors judge as a waste of their time brings to mind this comment by another notable trial advocacy guru, Professor Thomas Mauet. In his Fundamentals of Trial Techniques, Professor Mauet points out that:

“Whom you call as witnesses to prove your case is frequently not an issue. You simply must call the witnesses you know of to establish a prima facie case, and there is no room for choices. Most of the time, however, you will have choices. . . In deciding to call certain available witnesses, remember the following considerations:

1.  Do not overprove your case. Many lawyers call far too many witnesses, thereby boring the jury or, even worse, creating the impression that the lawyer doesn’t have confidence in her own witnesses. In general, calling a primary witness and one or two corroboration witnesses on any key point is enough. It’s usually best to make your case in chief simple, fast, and then quit while ahead.” (Fundamentals of Trial Techniques (3rd Ed. 1992), at 388-89.)

I think Rich’s approach to giving the jurors what they want–rather than trying to walk on eggshells not to alienate them–is by far the better approach. Thanks, Rich!

†Truth be told, I have no problem with bow ties, and I expect most jurors don’t, either. A bad, porno movie mustache, on the other hand, will not be tolerated (except by jurors with their own bad, porno movie mustaches).


5 Secrets to Gaining Client Trust: #4 Make Sure The Client Is Prepared

It is my considered view that litigation lawyers fall broadly into two categories: (1) those that adequately prepare their clients to testify in deposition and trial, and (2) everyone else.  I have crossed both types of advocates and, without exception, lawyers who did not spend the time to properly prepare their client (or other witness) for testimony were corner-cutters most everywhere else in the case.  Like most defense lawyers, I eat corner-cutters for lunch.

There may be barriers to proper preparation of a client for deposition or trial testimony.  The biggest is usually the client.  Clients who are not often involved in litigation have a difficult time understanding the need for serious testimony preparation.  It’s time-consuming, expensive, repetitive, exhausting and generally irritating.  After all, these clients reason, I’m just going to be asked to tell the truth, right? How hard can it be?

Reluctant clients need to understand the importance of adequate preparation.  A deposition that goes bad, if it’s an important witness, can be a game-changing event in a case.  Fortunately, many clients will heed our advice and take testimony preparation seriously. 

Experienced lawyers differ on timing and methodology of testimony preparation.  I recently heard a “rule of thumb” of 2 hours of preparation for every anticipated hour of testimony.  This might work as a general guideline, though we seldom know beforehand how long a deposition is going to last.  I prefer allowing lots and lots of time for preparation, and scaling back the actual time spent based on the client/witness progresses.  Some clients/witnesses are naturally good at the process, others are not so good.  I like to think I know how to improve those who are not so good, and I’ve also developed various methods, which I might share later, for helping increase a client’s comfort level in giving his or her testimony.  Typically, practice alone—using credible mock deposition or cross-examination questions—makes a client more comfortable.  When a client or other witness is comfortable and relaxed, he or she not only gives better testimony, but he or she feels better about the process.  This, in turn, tends to build client trust in my skills. 

Our conduct in defending the deposition itself can also engender (or erode) trust.  Our clients need to know we’re there, alert and in control throughout the deposition.  Effectively maintaining control of the process, strategic objecting, etc. are subjects for other posts.  However, in addition to being alert, I think it’s important to maintain and convey a sense of calm throughout the deposition, even if opposing counsel is nasty or taunting.  I’m of the mind that it is preferable to terminate a deposition that has become uncivil (and seek a protective order), rather than subjecting my client to angry arguments between the lawyers.  It is rare, I’ve found, that a heated argument among counsel during a deposition will accomplish much beyond unnerving my client and leading to potentially harmful testimony.


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