One of the most significant factors in winning in the courtroom is the relationship you, the attorney, establish with your jurors. Basically, the relationship the jurors have with you colors the way they perceive your witnesses, and ultimately, the evidence. So what kind of litigators do jurors like?
The California Court Study
The last survey the Administrative Office of the California Courts conducted which polled people's attitudes about attorneys was in 1978. The survey polled 5,000 people who came through the court system, asking them to comment on the court personnel they encountered. Their comments were instructive, if not surprising.
What Respondents Did Not Like About Attorneys

Respondents were most impressed with judges and least impressed – by a five to one margin – with lawyers. So what didn't respondents like? They didn't like attorneys who:

Engaged in theatrics
Were not prepared
Repeated themselves too much
Harassed the jurors and witnesses
Talked too much
Were dishonest

Their primary complaint was that attorneys talk too much – repetition being a large part of the problem. The second behavior respondents did not like was attorney "theatrics," characterized as showmanship, oratorical embellishment, over dramatization, cheap gamesmanship and false courtesy. The third most stated complaint was harassing jurors and witnesses, i.e., badgering and bullying witnesses; trying to confuse them; patronizing jurors; being rude or ridiculing; sharp, shyster cunning; haranguing, arrogant and abusive. Lastly, respondents complained that attorneys were dishonest. Telling lies was dishonest, but so was avoiding the whole truth by revealing just a part of it through yes/no questions.

What Respondents Liked About Attorneys

On the other hand, respondents did like attorneys who were:

Dedicated to the client
Fair and truthful
Knowledgeable and experienced in the law

Being prepared was the attribute respondents liked most, i.e., being organized, sticking to relevant materials, presenting the facts clearly, concisely and logically. Their responses suggest that an attorney who was prepared could expedite the trial quickly and not waste a jurors' time with excessive verbiage and repetition.

Secondly, they liked attorneys who were dedicated, fair and honest. In fact – and this is significant – three times more respondents mentioned that they like a dedicated, fair attorney than mentioned they liked an attorney who had knowledge and experience of the law. Given the choice, people prefer nice attorneys to brilliant ones.

The Synchronics Group Study
What Jurors Liked About the Winning Attorney

In 1990, The Synchronics Group – a trial consulting company in San Francisco – interviewed 44 jurors, all of whom had sat on cases tried and won by the same litigator. Jurors were asked what they liked about the winning attorney; they said they liked him primarily because he was nice mannered and well spoken. Specifically, they mentioned that he was friendly, articulate, polite, human, humorous and helpful; he had good eye contact, a good voice and could talk on any level.

Secondly, they liked him because they perceived him to be cool. He never raised his voice or got excited; he was calm, smooth, in control, confident, even-toned, rolled with the punches, didn't let little things bother him and wasn't easily shaken.

Thirdly, they liked his directness: concise, "no bull," precise, straight-forward, focused, not repetitious and not forgetful.

And finally, they thought he was sharp: intelligent, professional, thorough, well prepared, experienced, impressive and a go-getter.

The Significance of the Two Surveys

In both surveys, respondents applauded the verbal skills of succinctness and directness and the human values of fairness, honesty and sincerity. They preferred 'cool' attorneys to 'hot' ones, feeling more comfortable with a calm, even-toned, controlled presentation than an exaggerated and overly dramatic one.

Most important, respondents from both surveys believed that 'who a litigator is' was more important than 'what a litigator knows.' Knowing the law and having experience in it was of less importance than the more human qualities of being dedicated to a client, treating the jurors and witnesses with respect and being fair and honest. Being a nice person in the courtroom will get you further with the jurors than being a brilliant polemicist.

The results of these two surveys are interesting, but somewhat counter-intuitive. We think of the consummate courtroom communicator as someone larger-than-life – dramatic, spell binding, hypnotic. But the respondents were saying that they prefer the 'regular nice guy' litigator – with down home values.

The Vanna White Effect

So what's going on here? Why is the ordinary more appealing – and less suspect – than the extra-ordinary? In answer, consider what this writer characterizes as the Vanna White Effect. Everyone knows Vanna White; she reached stardom by never opening her mouth. She simply came out on stage and turned cards. And yet, she is one of the most famous people in America! How did this happen?

She has achieved such fame – and admiration! – because she doesn't say anything. She is America's universal image of 'beautiful woman,' the specifics of which her audience can fill in themselves. People can paint her to be anything they want a woman to be: sweet or sassy, sexy or demure, average or brilliant. Everybody loves Vanna because she is all things to all people.

Perhaps the key to a litigator's success in the courtroom is to utilize the Vanna White Effect and present yourself as the universal image of Everyman, – i.e., the girl next door, the neighbor down the street, somebody's brother-in-law – whose individuality can be defined by the jurors. In this position as the archetypal figure, your power comes from the jurors projecting onto you their hopes, their values and their aspirations, thus coloring you like them.

Expanding your presence, letting go of narrow definitions of who you are and opening yourself to reflecting your jurors is difficult – demanding great skill, self confidence and courage – because it means shifting the focus from you to your jurors. Being Everyman means opening up, letting go of judgmental attitudes which shut others out, being ready to act from your heart as well as your head and embracing your empathetic sensitivities. Being Everyman means freeing yourself from the posturing and getting real.

At the same time you are striving for synchrony with your jurors, you are at war with your opponents and have to be ever vigilant to protect yourself against their attacks. Maintaining the constantly shifting balance between your adversarial role as general on the battlefield and your fair, polite and helpful role as a nice person is difficult. But you are both nice person and general. The challenge is to keep both parts of you operational; too often, the nice person gets lost in the courtroom, overwhelmed by the immediate demands of the general. Success is keeping the balance.

One word of warning! Expanding your presence to encompass the aspirations of your jurors demands a heightened consciousness; it is a state of mind and cannot be put on like a suit jacket. The way you present yourself before the jurors has to be grounded in sincerity and lack of guile; otherwise, they will perceive you as two faced, false and – theatrical.

The truly humble attorney, who is aware of his vulnerabilities; who is scared of losing, but believes in the case, speaks from the heart and is ready to put everything she has into winning; who not only respects those whose responsibility is to judge him, but feels connected to them – that is the real charismatic litigator.

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