Throughout law school and during my first few years of practice as a trial attorney, I have been told by professors, mentors, and peers alike what should and should not be worn in a courtroom. The goal was to not offend anyone on the jury. This theory seemed simple and easy to follow.
The recommendations I received included such thing as: do not wear bright nail polish, do not wear heels which are too tall or open-toed, ensure your suit and shirt are freshly pressed, etc. I followed these tips to the letter during each and every trial attended. After the first few trials, and feeling the eyes of a jury panel scrutinizing my every move, I wondered what else jurors noticed about attorneys during trial.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to see trial attorneys through the eyes of the jury when I was called for jury duty. As I entered the courtroom, I focused my attention on the attorneys. I immediately noticed their appearance and went over all the check-boxes in my mind to determine who had followed the unwritten rules that were ingrained into my conscious and subconscious. As the attorneys began voir dire, I realized that, as a juror, I noticed much more than the appearance of the attorneys. The conduct of the attorneys is also under strict scrutiny. Did the attorney try to make a connection with the jurors? Was their presentation concise? Did they seem prepared?
As these thoughts raced through my mind, I wondered what other jurors were thinking. Maybe I was being too harsh on these attorneys because I was one myself. After I was dismissed from jury duty, I conducted a little research into what juries actually think. This lead me to a recently published report by the Cornell University Law School Law Review titled “What Juries Really Think: Practical Guidance for Trial Lawyers.”
Surprisingly, a very small percentage (only 4%) of the jurors surveyed commented about attorney appearance. These jurors reported that the attorneys had holes in their jackets, wore wrinkled clothing, and looked sloppy. Such comments were consistent with what I heard from professors, mentors, and peers.
However, there were other factors that the jurors found more important than attorney appearance. Those factors included:
- Organization/Preparation/ Efficiency: 44.7% of jurors expect attorneys to do more than simply “wing it.” Jurors expect attorneys to be organized and present their case efficiently.
- Delivery or Style of Presentation: 36.1% of jurors expect attorneys to speak clearly, appear personable, and to refrain from dramatic presentations.
- Repetition: 33.7% of jurors are insulted when attorneys repeat questions. Jurors expect attorneys to utilize technology and timelines during the presentation of evidence.
- Good Behavior toward Opposing Counsel, Witnesses, and Jury: 31.3% of jurors expect attorneys to be respectful to other persons in the courtroom.
- Other Professionalism Indicators: 29.3%.
Although the jurors surveyed were only asked to relay their thoughts about attorneys, it stands to reason that some of these concepts apply to corporate representatives, clients, and witnesses, who are also present during a trial. Since jurors are watching everything, it is reasonable to believe that the actions, appearance, and conduct of everyone in the courtroom must also be under the jury’s scrutiny.
While these concepts may seem simple and self-evident, we’ve all witnessed trial counsel who has failed to abide by these unwritten rules. Understanding a juror’s perspective can help trial attorneys meet expectations and earn the jury panel’s respect. Although the right conduct will not guarantee you will win, it certainly cannot hurt.