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Voir Dire: Your First Chance to Make a Good Impression

78724287Some attorneys erroneously think of their opening statement as the first opportunity to present themselves to the jury. In reality, the jurors will begin getting an impression of you—and by extension, your case—as soon as you begin voir dire. It’s critical that you use your interpersonal skills to connect with potential jurors as soon as they enter the courtroom for the first time.

Presenting yourself well to the jury is a multi-faceted task: The impression you make will be based on your appearance, your attitude, and your personality. Here are some specific tips to improve your personal presentation:

  • Stand when prospective jurors enter the jury room and when conducting the examination. Standing shows respect for prospective jurors, encourages them to focus on you instead of any other courtroom distractions, and affords a better vantage point from which to gauge their reactions.
  • Immediately introduce yourself and your client, even if the court has previously done so. The court’s introduction may not have been sufficient for jurors to connect you with your name and client. Even if the judicial introduction was perfect, repeating your name and identifying your client is always very helpful.
  • Speak loudly enough. You want to be sure that all the jurors, including those not yet called to the box, can hear distinctly. This might mean using a microphone. If you find that you’re uncomfortable using a microphone and fumble a bit, apologize and turn this into a humanizing connection with the jurors.
  • Be courteous, fair, and sincere at all times. Don’t be patronizing, and don’t cross-examine or embarrass prospective jurors. Make a connection with each prospective juror—this will not only make the person you’re questioning feel more at ease, but it will also reflect well on you from the other jurors who are observing.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions will help you better explore the juror’s personality, attitudes, and predilections. For example, in an action involving a large corporate defendant, ask whether prospective jurors have ever had any unpleasant experiences with large corporations. If one has, ask the juror to discuss these experiences and any conclusions drawn from them.
  • Use active listening. Pay close attention to the juror who’s speaking. Particularly tune into subtle or mixed messages and identify tacit assumptions or expectations. After the juror has finished speaking, paraphrase what you’ve heard, checking that your understanding is correct. Not only does this clear up misunderstandings, but it shows the juror that you’re carefully listening and value what he or she is saying.
  • Pay attention to body language. Another way to show that you’re paying close attention to the jurors is to notice their body language even when you aren’t actively questioning them. If you see a juror make a face or nod in reaction to what someone else is saying, you can follow up with that juror and draw out even more useful information. For example, “When Juror No. 5 said X, I noticed you nodded your head. Did you agree with what she was saying? Can you explain why?”

Effective lawyering often calls for use of what some might think of as “soft skills.” Don’t be fooled—strong interpersonal skills are valued and practiced by the most hard-core attorneys.

For more advice on conducting an effective voir dire examination, check out CEB’s California Trial Practice: Civil Procedure During Trial, chap 8, and the article Voir Dire Revisited: The Bull’s Viewpoint in CEB’s Effective Direct and Cross-Examination §13.5.

Other CEBblog posts on voir dire:

© The Regents of the University of California, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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  1. […] Voir Dire: Your First Chance to Make a Good Impression […]

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