Monday, February 29, 2016

Simple Words That Win With Jurors: "Thank you, Your Honor"

I was assisting with voir dire recently when opposing counsel, questioning the prospective jurors, was told by the judge to "Move along, counselor," to which the attorney replied, "But Your Honor…" I barely listened to the rest of what the attorney was saying, because I was delighted at the expression of confusion and dismay on the faces of the jurors. Opposing counsel had just lost points with the very people she would need to convince down the road, all to my side's advantage.

Perhaps the most egregious mistake a lawyer can make in voir dire is fail to fully respect the judge. Prospective jurors are not happy to be there, they do not trust the lawyers and the whole process is intimidating. Whatever else happens, prospective jurors are convinced only that the judge is neutral and therefore only the judge is trustworthy.

If the judge says "That’s enough, counselor" or "Move along, counselor" or any other such directive, the lawyer should immediately say, "Thank you, Your Honor" and do so. If the judge says, "You’re out of time, counselor," the lawyer should refrain from arguing; "But Your Honor, opposing counsel took 10 extra minutes, which ate into my time." As far as the prospective jurors are concerned, whatever the judge says, goes. If you have a legitimate grievance worth arguing with the judge, to do so out of the range of the prospective jurors.