Most attorneys, when planning case strategy, focus on cross-examination, opening statement, and legal questions. But overarching all of these, and fundamental to any case, is this question: “How am I going to make a jury understand my case?”
As the lawyer, you’ve been living with a case for as long as you can remember (or at least a year before trial). This intimacy with the case may have blurred your view of the case. What is clear to you, may not be so clear to the jury. But that’s your job, making sometimes complex facts and issues clear to the jury so they can see their way to finding in your client’s favor.
Here are some great ways to bring the dawning of comprehension to the faces of the jury:
- Cut, cut, cut. The jury should look forward to your appearances, because they know you will be succinct when others have been rambling.
- Speak plainly. A subject never “exits a vehicle,” a man “gets out of a car.” Things never “transpire,” they “happen.” Drop the legalese and speak like a regular person.
- Repeat key points. Repeated sledgehammer blows eventually strike home.
- Be interesting. Use graphics and technology, summarize lengthy and dull evidence, don’t be afraid to joke at the right moment.
- Carefully plan timing of testimony. In most cases, you should present witnesses in the order which naturally tells the story to the jury. There are exceptions. Reserve important impeachment evidence until after the stage is set for impeachment. Some important witnesses may be held in abeyance until other witnesses have testified (to avoid unnecessary contradiction). Present key witnesses early in the morning, if possible, while the jury is still alert.
- Cross-examination should go for the jugular, not the capillaries. If an adverse witness is dragged through all the minutiae applicable to that witness, you’ll lose the jury on both minutiae and the main points. The same is true of direct examination: Stick to the main points.
For more excellent tips on communicating before a jury, turn to CEB’s Effective Direct and Cross-Examination Book. Also check out CEB’s programs Effective Opening Statements and Closing Arguments As Taught By California’s Top Trial Attorneys and The 5 Winning Trial Techniques That Make A Winner, both available On Demand.
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