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A Surprising Lesson From Voir Dire

Kenneth J. Lopez, J.D.
By: Kenneth J. Lopez, J.D.

Trial Consultants, Jury Consulting, Trial Consulting, Juries, Jury Consultants, Voir Dire, Jury Selection

I get excited when I am called for jury duty. After all, my entire 25-year professional career has been focused on persuading judges and juries. Serving on a jury is a rare opportunity to get a view from the inside. It allows me to confirm everything I routinely watch in mock trials and have learned. For example, see 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said.

When I get called, and yesterday was that rare day, I watch everything -- from how potential jurors are organized to the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of the pool, and every little choice the lawyers make, from clothing to tactics. Unfortunately, the fact that I am a litigation consultant always comes out during voir dire.

The last time I was on jury duty, I made it through voir dire and served as foreman in a small traffic case. My fellow jurors said, “You know more about this than the rest of us, so you be our foreman.” That made sense to me, and I know myself to be a good facilitator of group discussions. It was all less formal and only five jurors were seated.

Today was different. Thirty-six potential jurors were called for a 12-member jury. So I knew we were going to be facing a criminal matter. Ultimately, I was dismissed, but not before I had a chance to observe the process once again as a juror and to make some observations.

Once voir dire began, I noticed that the prosecutor focused very heavily (probably too much) on potential jurors who had a connection with law enforcement and the legal industry. In the process, she exposed many government-friendly law and order jurors, doing herself a disservice. She also exposed me in a discussion around witnesses who lie – something that I had seen in a recent matter that A2L consulted on.

Defense counsel put on an aggressive voir dire. She visibly angered many potential jurors by using deeply complicated hypotheticals and double negatives. Jurors turned against her, she invited many objections, and the judge ultimately turned against her as well. Her techniques exposed many jurors who were likely to be biased. However, her unapologetically brash approach distanced her from every juror. So, for the defendant's sake, I hope that her co-counsel is putting on the opening.

This was not just my opinion. After being released, a group of 10 also-released jurors rode down in the elevator with me. They were abuzz with negative comments about defense counsel. I asked, so did she piss you off? The universal answer was hell yes.

The lesson is that although there’s no question that it’s a good idea to weed out certain types of jurors, trial lawyers must never forget that they are dealing with human beings, not computers. It’s possible to antagonize the very jurors whose votes you need as early as the voir dire process. Don’t do anything that can stand in the way of building that fragile rapport that a trial lawyer needs to develop with the jury.

Other free A2L Consulting articles and resources about voir dire, jury selection, being likeable, and more:

A2L Consulting Voir Dire Consultants Handbook


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