It has been a busy few months of picking juries for our consultants at Sound Jury Consulting. I have picked three juries in the past three weeks alone and we seem to have had a record number of cases lately that have made it all the way to trial. This has led to a lot of opportunities to see how different attorneys approach voir dire. The different approaches fall generally into three categories: 1) Well-planned and thought-out; 2) Those with questionable goals; and 3) Those with no apparent purpose.
It is difficult to understate the importance of jury selection, regardless of which philosophy you embrace. These are the people who are going to ultimately decide your client’s fate. The problem is that voir dire time is limited, even under liberal conditions. Due to these time constraints, attorneys are often forced to make difficult choices about how to spend their limited opportunity to speak with potential jurors. So let’s look at these three categories in more detail. Continue reading →
Mock trials are a popular tool for attorneys who want to learn how jurors will react to their cases. Mock trials have become so commonplace that some argue it is malpractice not to conduct one in a high-exposure matter. With the increased use of mock trials, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of misconceptions about the design and value of this type of jury research. Let’s take a look at four common misconceptions about mock trials. Continue reading →
Recently, I picked a jury in the Pacific Northwest where the judge provided the attorneys for each side limited time for attorney-conducted voir dire (20 minutes each). While the time allocations for voir dire vary from case to case and from judge to judge, most jury selections involve some sort of time limitations along these lines. In other words, in many case, attorneys probably need more time than they actually receive in order to conduct the kind of jury selection that they would prefer. This has important implications because it means that every choice an attorney makes in his or her voir dire is a trade-off. If an attorney spends time focused on one topic, it takes time away from another topic. Consequently, attorneys are put in the position of having to make some tough choices about how to spend their time. Continue reading →
The other day I was watching FBI Director Comey’s testimony to Congress regarding the FBI’s Clinton email investigation and findings. It began as a test of my mental fortitude, but I found that I enjoyed watching how Comey handled the questions and delivered his responses. In particular, I admired the way he kept his composure while still being strong and, when necessary, a bit indignant.
Comey wasn’t angry or rude. Instead, when needed, he used righteous indignation. A good example of this came when Comey was being “asked questions” by Florida Representative John Mica. Towards the end of the allotted five minutes, Comey had had enough of the insinuations and thinly veiled attacks on his investigation and conclusions. He sat up a bit straighter, talked a bit louder and clearer, and he stated, “I hope what you’ll tell the folks in the café is ‘look me in the eye and listen to what I’m about to say. I did not coordinate that with anyone. The White House. The Department of Justice. Nobody outside the FBI family had any idea what I was about to say. I say that under oath. I stand by that….’” He ends by saying, “I want to make sure I was definitive about that.” You can watch his testimony here. Continue reading →
Many attorneys and academics love to debate when cases are won or lost. Some argue that cases are won or lost in jury selection. Others point to opening statements. Research has yet to offer a definitive answer, mainly because the answer is that it is a little bit of everything. However, cross-examination rarely gets mention in the debate. Cross-examination has long been the land of lost opportunities for attorneys, particularly defense attorneys. There is so much that can be accomplished in cross-examination, yet it rarely receives the necessary pre-planning that it requires. Sure, attorneys outline the key areas of questioning, but little attention is given to cross-examination in terms of the art of presentation to the jurors. As evidence of this, in all of the shadow juries I have conducted over my career, the most common complaint from shadow jurors each day after trial is that attorneys lacked organization and clarity in their cross-examinations. This left the shadow jurors struggling to understand not only what was actually relevant, but why it was relevant. This makes the information less memorable and less likely to exert influence in deliberations. Relevance is not always clear to jurors, even though it may feel painfully obvious to the attorneys who have spent months or years in the trenches of discovery working to understand every facet of the case. Consequently, attorneys need to give greater attention to the important role of cross-examination at trial. Here are five reasons a good cross-examination is better than a great direct-examination. Continue reading →
In this episode of The Sniper Defense, Podcast Playbook for Defense Attorneys, Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. discusses strategies for defense attorneys to exert greater influence over the content and structure of jurors’ notes.
“Themes” and “story” have been the buzzwords of the jury consulting industry for nearly forty years. Judging from the vast majority of calls that I receive, these two items are what most defense attorneys believe are the missing pieces in their efforts to convince the jury to find for the defense. It can be challenging to develop a theme or a story. It sounds so simple, yet it can be unclear about how you go about developing them. Fortunately, there are experts like me who can assist defense attorneys with this process. However, for a variety of reasons, defense attorneys do not always have the ability to retain a jury consultant. With that in mind, this blog identifies five simple, but essential exercises for defense attorneys who are trying to develop powerful themes and stories for their case.
Seem a little silly? While no attorney has ever said something like this to me, from time to time, I have sensed that a client initially thought such exercises might be silly. Any hint of this quickly fades as we get into the exercise in our strategy sessions. Defense attorneys are often surprised by how helpful these simple and “silly” exercises help them in the strategy development process. Continue reading →
In this episode of The Sniper Defense, Tom discusses practical strategies for defense attorneys to consider as they try to make the most of their cross examination opportunities during the plaintiff’s case-in-chief.