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Top Three Tips for Conducting Voir Dire

Andrew David Tharp

Top Three Tips for Conducting Voir Dire
DarrenMower via Getty Images

You have only one chance to have a conversation with the jurors during trial, and it is during voir dire. I use the word “conversation” purposefully because a conversation is something more than talking to or presenting to someone. It involves listening, responding, and connecting with another person. The conversation you have with jurors during voir dire is your best opportunity to get to know them, and perhaps more importantly, for them to get to know you. Here are three tips to make the most of this integral interaction. 

  1. Do No Harm. You are not going to win a case during voir dire, but you sure can lose it. First impressions, particularly negative first impressions, are incredibly impactful. Consider first dates. When two people go on a first date, they do not often immediately fall in love and rush off to get married. If the first date goes well, they go on a second date, they continue to get to know each other, and they continue to develop a relationship with one another. Conversely, plenty of couples will go on a first date, and that will be the last time they ever see each other, simply based on first impressions. When conducting voir dire, err on the side of caution when it comes to asking questions, taking stances, or previewing your case, because if you get off on the wrong foot with any juror, it will be difficult to recover.
  2. Become Part of Their Tribe. Have you ever met someone and played the “name game” with them? “You graduated from Central High School? Do you know Sue Smith?” We like to find things that we have in common with people who we meet. It makes us feel more comfortable and more connected to them. Pay attention to details that jurors provide about themselves and find opportunities to highlight commonalities that you have with them. These could come in the form of similar hobbies, where you grew up, or how many children you have. Finding common ground with jurors will help them become more receptive to seeing things from your perspective and adopting your arguments during trial.
  3. Be Real. As lawyers, we are trained to present. Mock trial programs, litigation seminars, and trial advocacy courses all teach us to stand up straight, move with a purpose, do not carry anything in our hands, use intentional pauses, etc. During voir dire, strip all of that away—that is not how people have a conversation. Around a dinner table, family and friends gesture, they hold things in their hands, and they sit in a variety of different postures. If you are going to make any meaningful connections with the jurors during voir dire, it is imperative that you speak and act naturally. Do not let your formal training or the setting of a courtroom impede your one and only opportunity to have a conversation and make a connection with the jury, because it is the best way for you to get to know them, and the best way for them to get to know you.