Over the past several blogs we’ve been looking at how trial threatens jurors. Today we’re going to talk about how trial threatens you as well.
Jurors are hostages yes, but you're a hostage too.
What has taken you hostage? Fear.
Fear of losing, fear of screwing up, and fear of the jurors themselves. These fears have the potential to derail you at trial.
We’ve talked about how trial threatens jurors in five areas: STATUS, CERTAINTY, AUTONOMY, RELATEDNESS and FAIRNESS. But trial also threatens YOU in these five areas.
Let’s start with STATUS. As a trial attorney, your status is in toilet. As far as the jurors are concerned, you are the reason why they are there in the first place. You’re the reason for their imprisonment. Never mind that you’d never have to be here if the other side had taken responsibility in the first place. But the jurors don't get that. They think the reason they're here is because of you.
And to add insult to injury, you're a plaintiff attorney. You are there to ask the jurors for money. Talking about money in our society is taboo; the fact that you’re asking jurors to award it, much less talk about it makes your status decrease.
Not to mention, you may screw everything up! What if you forget your opening? What if the jurors don't talk to you? Jurors are forced to speak in public, but so are you. This can threaten status.
In terms of CERTAINTY, jurors don’t have much, but neither do you. You have to decide which jurors are "good" and which jurors are “bad.” In addition, there’s no certainty about the right “method” to use. Should you stand in front of the jury like Nick Rowley and ask them to be brutally honest, or should you ask them to share their fears, by promising to share yours like Gerry Spence? Or maybe you should talk about their passions like Don Keenan. Who knows? Trial threatens your certainty in a variety of ways.
In terms of AUTONOMY, trial threatens a juror’s autonomy by forcing them to participate. But it also threatens your autonomy. How? You don't get to decide the verdict, jurors do! You have zero control over how they decide your case. It’s all in the juror’s hands.
In terms of RELATEDNESS, jurors don't know anyone; you, opposing counsel, the judge or even each other. But you also don't know the jurors. And if we’re being completely honest, maybe you don't want to know them. These people have the power to destroy your case. Many of them already view you negatively, why open yourself up to that?
Finally, in terms of FAIRNESS, being called for jury duty certainly seems unfair to most jurors, but trial can also feel unfair to you. Think about it: you've worked up your case for months, if not years, and trial requires that you deliver it into the hands of amateurs who don't have any specialized training or knowledge. That can definitely feel unfair.
Depressed yet? I hope not. I’m sharing this with you not to depress you, but to show you that you and the jurors are in the same boat.
Trial activates your threat response. For the reasons I listed above as well as a myriad of other reasons. When you stand in front of this hostile group of jurors, the natural response is to want to close up. Yet trial demands the opposite. It demands that you open up and become vulnerable.
No one gets into trial work because it's a safe, easy, bet. It's the opposite. It's difficult. It's hard to do.
In upcoming blogs I’ll help you release your fear. But until then, relax in the knowledge that you and the jurors are in the same boat. And more importantly: you hold the keys to both your freedom and the juror’s. Once you free yourself, the jury will follow.
Sari has been dubbed the "Attorney Whisperer" because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves.