Lessons from the Jury Box
I recently finished two nearly back-to-back jury trials, each lasting two weeks. I know trusting your fate to a jury is difficult for any client. But professionally, it is always a very rewarding and exhilarating experience, and we were pleased to come back with two wins. What was most interesting, though, was talking to the jurors afterward. As lawyers, we want to think that our stellar cross examination skills or amazing oratory during closing arguments win cases. Since these were health care liability actions, I also expected to hear a lot from the jurors about the credibility and experience of our talented expert witnesses. Instead, what I heard over and over from each juror we talked to was that it really came down to the main party witnesses—were they sincere, honest, and credible? The other stuff, including the lawyers and experts, didn’t matter much. In many ways, it was a gut check; do I think this person is genuine and truthful?
In many ways, it was a gut check; do I think this person is genuine and truthful?
Juror feedback certainly provides a good litigation lesson for lawyers in preparing witnesses and gathering evidence for a case. It’s also a good reminder if you are going to let your client do an interview in the middle of litigation or perhaps make a statement to the press in the midst of a scandal. We’ve all seen a politician or sports figure apologize for mistakes, comments, or bad judgment. And, at least for me, that gut check always comes into play. Is he or she really remorseful, or is his team, organization, or maybe his lawyer just forcing him to apologize? If your client is genuine, sincere, and passionate about what they say, making a press statement, or participating in an interview or a press conference, becomes more compelling.
A few years ago, I did some media training for a college football coach, and he was not too happy about being there. He was forced to attend the session because his athletic director thought it was a good idea. The fact that he didn’t want to be there and why his athletic director pushed for the training became apparent right away. We did a couple of mock interviews of what I guess he considered boring material, but I just wanted to get him comfortable on camera. Anyone who would have seen that footage would have thought he was boring, insincere, and didn’t care about anyone or anything. I would have never wanted to put him in front of the real press with that attitude, which is exactly why his athletic director was forcing him to participate. Then I had him talk about why he really went into coaching, why he cared about his players, and why football made him get up each morning. It was like looking through the eyes of a different person. His passion and sincerity shined through. You knew, just by watching him, that he loved what he did, and he meant it.
Of course, you can’t teach sincerity, and it depends on each situation. But when you know how the world sees you when you are genuine and passionate, you can at least translate that to other situations. This coach could still be asked a lot of boring questions since our training session. But he knows that if he can remember that feeling during that “fun” mock interview and carry the same passion and sincerity every time he talks to the press, he will come across that way to everyone who watches. He just needed a little reminder of how to show what he already felt–he did indeed care.
A jury of peers judges the litigants in a courtroom, and certainly our peers in the public judge everyone in public scandals, lawsuits, or disputes. Our recent jurors reminded me of an important lesson: All the bells and whistles are great, but what really matters is if what you or your client says passes the gut check challenge.