In my last post, I talked about trusting jurors. The flip side to that is that you need to be trustworthy. There are many elements that go into being trustworthy, such as:
- How you present yourself in court
- How you treat witnesses and court staff
- How honest you are in voir dire (and how little you use voir dire as a means to persuade rather than gather information)
- How much you ask for in damages and what you ask for (be reasonable!)
- How consistent your story is
There are many other factors but I want to briefly talk about the last element. Pennington and Hastie are credited with developing what is now termed the “Story Model” of jury decision-making. There are several elements that go into making a good story and as jurors listen to a case, they construct several stories. One or two win out in the end. One of the elements of a winning story is consistency.
If jurors sense any inconsistency in your story, you lose credibility. Be aware of inconsistencies in testimony as well as issues you may not always be on the lookout for. For example, if you are claiming back injuries and ongoing pain, does your client shift in the chair during trial? If your client has neck pain and loss of mobility, is he/she still driving? Jurors will not only spot the inconsistency but will be angry that your client is an unsafe driver who cannot look where he/she is going and therefore is putting that juror in potential danger. Will jurors hear about a settlement with one defendant and yet your client claims to have no money to get treatment? Jurors will assume the money from the settlement could have gone to treatment and often then surmise that your client is not really motivated to get better.
Often you will need an outsider’s eye to spot these things. You may be too close to the case. If you don’t have the budget for a focus group, run your case by some non-legal friends or strangers. See what questions they have and what troubles them. The less inconsistencies you have, the more jurors will be able to trust you and your story.