Keeping Jurors Awake and Interested

On my days off, I walk into my nearest courtroom and watch jury trials. I look for how long it takes me to figure out what the case is about and how long the attorneys keep my attention. The results are often poor. Yesterday, I walked into a case I believe was a contract dispute about payment for a custom made motorcycle. The plaintiff, the motorcycle designer, was on the stand. His demeanor was calm and he was clear in his speech but the presentation was so dry and boring that after 10 minutes I felt myself wanting to doze off. I looked at the jury of 6. One or two men were nodding and paying attention – presumably they knew a bit more about motorcycles or had some personal interest. Another two or three were turning in and out, at least pretending to look interested as their eyes glazed over. And one woman wasn’t even pretending to be interested. She was completely checked out and bored.

Trials often involve some tedious questioning about topics that are not normally of interest to jurors. There’s nothing you can do to eliminate the need for some “boring” testimony, but you can make it less boring and grab jurors’ attention. At every opportunity, have the witness and/or yourself do something interactive. Even if that means something as simple as writing things on an easel as the witness is talking – such as the pros and cons of doing something a certain way.

In the case example above, the attorney could have either brought in a motorcycle as a demonstrative exhibit or at least had photos of the motorcycle where the witness could have gotten out of his seat to move around and point to things. This helps make the witness into a teacher as well as creates an interactive moment to keep jurors’ attention. He could have had various motorcycle parts cut out with Velcro on the back and showed the jurors why some parts wouldn’t fit while others worked perfectly by switching out Velcro pieces.

Other ideas for other cases include counting out the number of pills a client takes in a day or a week and putting them in glass containers so jurors can see how much it adds up to over a month or a year. Have witnesses come off the stand to point to exhibits or even better, to draw on them. Create a posterboard where you place a red dot next to a standard or rule that the defendant broke each time a witness agrees with a rule violation. Have a physical therapist come off the stand to demonstrate the exercises he had your client go through.

At every opportunity, get the witness off the stand, doing something interactive, and entering into a teaching mode. The jurors will stay interested and your experts will have more credibility as teachers than as paid witnesses.

4 Comments

Filed under Jury Research, Misc, Opening Statement, Trial preparation

4 responses to “Keeping Jurors Awake and Interested

  1. Sangeeta Sankar

    Nice article. It is true people start feeling bored if they do not understand the subject matter or do not feel related to that matter. Interaction and understanding of the subject is must, otherwise audience start feeling disconnected.

  2. Jennifer Mouzis

    Really interesting article. It is funny how we as practitioners forget these important details when in the middle of battle because WE are so interested in the subject matter. I will remember this in my next trial. Thank you.

  3. I like the idea of the testimony being interactive. One of the things that might help is to give the jurors a “trial notebook” which has the exhibits and anything else the judge will allow you to give the jurors. If they can follow along when the witness testifies about an exhibit that would help keep jurors attention.

    • Andrew Rader

      Most respectfully, I don’t love the “trial notebook” idea. It distracts the jurors from being present in the trial. It’s like when you give a whole PowerPoint slide- people read ahead and are already done with your point by the time you get to it. I think jurors like to watch the drama unfold, and even to feel like a participant when, for example, you leave them with something to ponder without making the point outright. Jurors will always adhere more strongly to an idea they think they’ve come up with than something that’s been spoonfed, but they have to be paying attention to catch it.

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