It has happened to every attorney that has ever stood up in front of jurors: maybe it’s just after lunch or maybe midafternoon. Perhaps it’s during a particularly science-heavy, technical part of your presentation. Just as you get to your main point, you scan the faces of the panel and notice one juror slumped over, eyes closed, clearly asleep.
As jury research consultants, this is something we run into frequently even in short, one-day mock trial exercises. Jurors are not always as riveted by the subject matter of a trial as those with a vested interest in the outcome of the case. There are several different types of cases that can be particularly vulnerable to losing jurors’ interest. For example, cases involving large corporations with no individual plaintiffs or defendants or trials that cover technical topics such as financial investments, patent and/or trade secrets cases can be potentially snooze-inducing for jurors. Ultimately, any trial has the potential to lose jurors’ interest depending on the circumstances.
So what are the best ways to keep jurors awake?
Tell A Story
Remember that jurors, like the rest of us, think in stories. Attorneys are used to memorizing statements of fact, key dates on a timeline and the definitions of complex terminology. However, they may not have the glue to hold it all together: the story. To keep people awake, an attorney will have to tell an engaging story that effectively weaves in technical details. Doing this is easier than it sounds. To be successful, a trial team needs to discern what the story actually is and then repeatedly return to that story throughout the trial. The other secret here is practice! While no one needs to tell an attorney to practice beforehand, relaying the case like a story is often new to lawyers and will be executed most effectively when the storyteller has devoted some time to rehearsing the storyline.
Break It Down
In science-heavy trials where there are numerous expert witnesses, it is understandable that jurors may get lost in the details and lose interest. While the attorneys have likely read thousands of pages on the subject at issue, most jurors are just being introduced to ideas like the concept of torque, financial theories/concepts or the intricacies of patent law. Sitting in the courtroom listening to opening statements may be their first exposure to these ideas. This is where it helps to break down the bigger concepts into smaller ones. Take a complex idea, like how an airbag works, and break it down into three to five smaller pieces so that jurors can digest one piece at a time.
Provide Accessible Examples
If it proves difficult to break down a technical concept into simpler parts, one alternative that can help jurors understand and engage with your side’s case is to provide real-world examples of the technical concepts. For instance, an attorney recently used an accessible example when describing a medical instrument used to scope a patient, explaining the purpose of the instrument and the length of the guidewire used in the procedure. He then described the exterior of the guidewire as similar to that of a nail file. This was a simple example, but one that jurors instantly related to.
Another good example comes from a complex trade secrets case that required jurors to have a nuanced understanding of the way multiple software systems related to one another. In this case, four different software systems each built upon the basic information in the previous one. To show this, the attorney discussed the systems as a food chain in which a large fish consumed a smaller fish and now the smaller fish is contained inside the larger fish’s body. This example illustrated the attorney’s point about the larger fish having all of the information that the smaller fish had, including any tiny fish the smaller one had already eaten. Examples can be extremely helpful to jurors and can help keep them engaged (and awake!) during your case. A word of caution: make sure you don’t overuse examples to the extent that you oversimply your case.
Repeat When Necessary
A very effective way to deal with technical material is to turn your main point, or your theme, into a catchphrase. This not only helps simplify a concept, but gives you a phrase to repeat at key points during trial so jurors can take it back to the deliberation room with them. One of the most effective examples in history comes from the O.J. Simpson trial: “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” People still remember this today because it’s short, catchy and was ultimately successful.
Interact with the Jurors
Jurors get bored and fall asleep because they are sitting in a courtroom, being talked at by attorneys on subjects that do not immediately affect them. They are in a passive role. Any chance you get to engage with jurors by posing questions to them, having them note something important or by asking them to listen for a specific point in your argument or for a gaping hole in the other side’s argument can be particularly useful. For example, ask jurors to visualize the scene of an accident or to put themselves in the position of the investigating officer. Another way to interact would be to have your witnesses/experts find their “inner teacher” and get off the stand and teach a concept to the jurors. This technique often has a positive effect of not only waking jurors up, but making the testimony more memorable.
Get to the Point
Oftentimes, especially in complicated trials, attorneys want to spend an extended amount of time on a scientific explanation of a single topic or lead a parade of multiple expert witnesses to opine on the same issue. Not surprisingly, jurors get bored. We often hear from jurors in post-trial interviews that attorneys need to simplify their cases and remove the redundancies. If you’ve made your main point, then keep going to your next one.
Create Engaging Trial Graphics
Any good story is enhanced by excellent visual aids. They can help convey a story, a particular theme, a definition or a concept. Especially with younger jurors, visual techniques make your case stand out and engage jurors longer. Having a visual representation of a sequence of events, or images of an accident reconstruction, adds something tangible for jurors to focus on during presentations.
It is possible to keep jurors awake and engaged in even the most detailed and technical trials by trying out some of the techniques listed above. If you are not sure what jurors will think of your case, contact us to discuss conducting a mock jury exercise to find out.
By: Alyssa Tedder-King, M.S. – Consultant