I bet you've been told you need to build trust with jurors, haven't you.
Here's the problem: trust takes time. Yet, you don't have the luxury of time to get jurors to believe and trust you.
What you need is permission.
What is permission?
Permission is how receptive someone is to you or your message.
Permission is a function of three things:
You can increase permission with jurors (or anyone else) by meeting their need.
For example, what do jurors need at the start of jury selection? Information. They want to know why they're there and what they have to do. So tell them. Forget phony "rapport builders" like asking about hobbies or what jurors have read lately. Get straight to the issue and watch permission go up.
You also increase permission by doing things at the right time. Jurors need to feel empowered, yes. But telling them they're the most important people in the room at the beginning of trial nearly always fails. Why? It's the wrong time. Jurors are on the lookout for any hint of manipulation and this fits the bill. You empower jurors in closing, not when you begin.
Finally, you increase permission by meeting people's needs at the right time and in the right context.
The different parts of trial represent different contexts. The context of voir dire is to get information. The context of opening is to give information. The context of closing is to argue your side. Stay in your lane! Don't argue in opening or deliver a presentation in voir dire.
You need jurors who are receptive to you and your message. Forget about getting them to trust or like you. Instead, focus on meeting their needs at the right time and in the right context and watch permission steadily increase.
Last week we looked at one of the limiting beliefs so many of you hold: there is a right way to do this. (This, meaning trial.)
Today’s limiting belief is similar but not quite the same. And that’s the belief that you have to be like [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here] to win cases.
It’s soooo tempting to see the “greats” and attempt to mimic their style, thinking that they’ve somehow figured out the way to win, and if you mimic what they’re doing you can win too.
Here’s the mind-blowing truth: the reasons the “greats” are great is because they’ve learned how to let go of their limiting beliefs and just show up as their real-deal selves.
Want to know what Gerry Spence is better at than anyone else on the planet? Being Gerry Spence.
Yes, you need to have command of the law and be well versed in various trial methods and techniques. I’m not suggesting that “authenticity” is all you need at trial. But so many of you believe that if you just had [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here]’s style, personality, dare I use the word…charisma…THEN you’d have it made in the shade.
You don’t need to be anyone but yourself. Working with as many of you as I do, I cringe as I watch you attempt to scrub yourself clean of any perceived faults all while bending yourself into a pretzel in an attempt to show up like [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here].
Stop. Stop the madness.
YOU ARE ENOUGH. Not only are you enough, when you attempt to be like [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here] you overlook your most powerful weapon at trial: your uniqueness.
Trial is a battle over credibility. The most credible person wins. What is the foundation of credibility? Authenticity. Show up like you. Yes, keep learning and practicing. But stop believing that you have to be like [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here] to win. You don’t. You just need to be you.
Rachel, my colleague here at FORTE sent this article to me yesterday, titled, The Green Smoothie Problem: Why Others Don’t Buy Your Ideas. In it the author discusses a common problem using an analogy of offering someone a green smoothie:
“Imagine I just handed you a smoothie in a glass. ‘It’s a green smoothie. Wanna drink it?’
If you’ve never seen or heard of a smoothie like that, you’d react in one of two ways:
Simply by handing you the smoothie, I’ve immediately put you at an information disadvantage. As a result, you anchor to a past precedent or try to draw confidence from others in order to fill in the gaps in your knowledge as quickly as possible. If my goal is to get you to drink the smoothie, I’ve done a rather poor job. I’ve merely handed you the drink and left you to do all the reasoning to influence your decision.
But if I really wanted to influence your decision, what if I shared the reasoning too?
What if, rather than simply hand you the smoothie, I laid out the details of how I came up with it?”
I was immediately struck by how the Green Smoothie Problem applies to voir dire. So often attorneys will begin voir dire by asking questions and offer no context or reasoning for why they are asking. Jurors, who are already at a disadvantage by having the least amount of information in the room, are immediately put on the defensive; if they don’t understand why you’re asking the question, they are afraid that whatever answer they give may be the “wrong” one.
Giving context helps put jurors at ease and helps you get more information. Which is why I suggest always giving a “context statement” before asking a question, or set of questions, in voir dire.
For example, if your case involves a car crash, before asking jurors, “Who here has ever been in a car crash?” Simply state, “This case involves a car crash.” If the case involves a hospital, before asking people about their experiences with hospitals, say, “This case involves a hospital.”
Other context statement examples include:
“In this case, someone was injured in a car crash.”
“In this case, there is a disagreement about what caused the crash.”
“This case involves an insurance claim that was not paid.”
Attorneys who hear this advice for the first time will often say to me, “But the judge reads a statement of the case before voir dire begins! Why repeat that info?”
The answer is twofold. One, the statement by the judge is read in its entirety, where voir dire will examine various aspects of a juror’s belief piece by piece. Two, the person who has the most information is the most powerful person in the room. Why leave that power sitting in the judge’s lap? Giving jurors context as you work your way through voir dire increases your credibility while empowering the jury at the same time. It’s win/win.
To learn more about my trial method, visit my Trial Tips page to watch videos on various trial topics, or subscribe to my newsletter to receive these blogs and videos directly into your inbox.
Sari has been dubbed the "Attorney Whisperer" because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves.