February 28, 2018 Practice Points

Tips for Preparing the Client for a Jury Trial

Your client’s performance before the jury may be the deciding edge to victory and a larger verdict.

John S. Austin

Even the most fastidious attorney, the one who prepares all his exhibits, all the direct and cross-examinations of the witnesses, the opening statement and closing argument may forget one crucial element of preparation: the client.

Most civil litigation clients have never stepped into a courtroom, much less been a party to a jury trial. The attorney needs to advise them of the role of the jury and their general attitude. The jurors are the fact finders, so they sit in judgment of the parties. They are examining their every move, every statement, and every facet of their being. The jurors are judging your clients on their dress, their posture, and their demeanor.

Worst of all, most jurors do not want to be jurors. While they are fulfilling their civic duty, they are there to the detriment of their work and their families. In sum, they are not a friendly audience.

The client needs to be advised of jury’s role and their attitude prior to the trial. The attorney needs to advise the client on appropriate attire. Clothing choices may vary depending on what sentiment you want to elicit from the jurors: the confident business executive, the humble tenant, or the injured motorist. The lawyer must also remind the client that they are on stage during the entire trial, including when the court is out of session. The jurors are watching them. The client needs to be careful of what they say and how they act. They should not make comments or ask questions of the lawyer in earshot of jurors. Also, their expressions should not be overly emotional on any scale. An exception to this rule is when the client is testifying, and the testimony is best served with some natural emotion and conviction.

A good lawyer explains the voir dire process. Not only is it a time to learn about the backgrounds, beliefs, and possible prejudices of a potential juror, but it also affords the attorney an opportunity to connect with the jury through an almost conversational approach of questioning. During voir dire, the client should be instructed to look at the juror and listen to the answers, as if the client was a good host at a dinner party. Regardless of the answer, the client should show some nonverbal clues that he is interested in what the juror has to say, such as a nod or small smile.

In a very close case on the facts or a case in which damages are based on your client’s pain and suffering, your client’s performance, outside their testimony, before these jurors may be the deciding edge to victory and a larger verdict.

John S. Austin is with Austin Law Firm in Raleigh, North Carolina.