Most jurors today simply accept that there are too many frivolous lawsuits, and that plaintiff’s lawyers are greedy individuals looking for another “McDonald’s” verdict. You can begin to overcome this common predisposition in the initial moments of voir dire, when you first stand and speak to the jury panel. Rather than “selling” your case to the jurors, use the first few minutes of voir dire to frame your case and your client in a positive light, and to begin to establish your credibility.
These six statement examples, excerpted from Jim’ Wren’s Proving Damages to the Jury will go a long way toward making the potential jurors comfortable with you and your client, and receptive to your damages case.
1. Introduce yourself to the jurors and help them see you as a person, rather than the stereotypical “greedy trial lawyer.”
“You’ve filled out juror cards with your basic information, so let me introduce myself with some of the same information for you. My name is Joe Jones; I’ve been married for 25 years to my wife Susie, and we have 3 children who are almost grown now.”
2. Briefly introduce your client and your client’s family. This statement allows jurors to see your client and his or her family as real people with whom they might have something in common.
“I’m here for Bill Smith, who can’t be here today for reasons you’ll be hearing about. But I do want to introduce you to his wife, Dena, and his 2 boys, Josh and Jacob. Until 2 years ago, Bill had worked for Apex Industries for 17 years.”
3. Make it comfortable for jurors to speak out.
“I’m going to begin by asking if any of you ever watched Oprah’s daytime talk show, when she was on the air, or another similar show? Go ahead and get your hands up. If you have ever watched those shows, then you know that the people in the audience have no difficulty expressing their opinions. They speak right out. That’s exactly how you all should express yourselves here. When either I or the corporate defense lawyer asks a question, feel free to tell us exactly what you think.”
4. Make it comfortable for jurors to be honest and to admit that they are not right for this particular case.
“We all have had unique life experiences. We’ve all been through some of the same things, but there are some things you’ve been through that I haven’t, and maybe some things I’ve been through that you haven’t. This makes some of us better suited for some types of cases than others. Since we all have different backgrounds and feelings, there are no right or wrong answers about how we feel, just truthful or untruthful answers. You have my pledge to shoot straight with you, and that’s all I ask of you in return.”
5. Offer an example to show jurors it is okay to acknowledge bias or prejudice.
“Outside of this courtroom, we tend to think of bias and prejudice as being bad, but in here, we’re using those words to talk about something that is very natural for all of us. ‘Bias’ is simply a leaning toward a person or a particular side of an issue. ‘Prejudice’ simply means to prejudge an issue. I’m biased toward my kids. I’ll bet you’re biased toward yours. That’s not bad. It’s just true. If somebody were to ask me to referee my son’s high school basketball game, I would tell him ‘I’ll try to be fair,’ and I would, but in my heart I would know that is probably not the right game for me to referee. That would be my honest answer.”
6. Let the jurors know this is a significant damages case (and is not, therefore, another “frivolous lawsuit”).
“Not many people get a jury summons and start celebrating. You probably didn’t. But I want to promise you two things. Number one: This case is going to be interesting. Number two: This case is very important. Has everybody heard of the McDonald’s case? Good news. This is no McDonald’s case.”
About the Author
Jim Wren is a trial lawyer with more than 30 years of trial experience. He is board certified nationally, in Civil Trial Advocacy, by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and by the State of Texas in both Personal Injury Trial Law and Civil Trial Law. He was named a Texas Super Lawyer each year from 2003 through 2007, when he joined the Baylor Law School faculty as a professor, teaching trial procedure and advocacy. Although he now teaches on a full-time basis, he continues to represent a limited number of clients in courts across the nation.