Recently, I was able to serve as a juror for a law school mock trial competition. It was really a lot of fun. But it was also a surprisingly educational experience.
I’ve been practicing law for nearly a decade, and a lot of my work involves trial work.While I’ve never had a chance to sit on a jury, this competition gave me a little taste of the experience.
For those of you fellow attorneys, here are just a few good reminders that I took away from the experience.
- Pay attention to where your standing. The trial I watched was in a court room in which I’ve tried a handful of cases. However, I've never sat in the jury box to watch a case being presented. I was amazed when competitors were standing in the very same position I often stood (where it felt absolutely normal to stand giving an opening and closing statement), but it was too close for comfort. So before you give your next opening, sit in the jury box and have someone stand where you intend to give your opening just to make sure it’s not too close.
- Juries get tired fast. Even as a trial attorney, as I witnessed the case being presented, it was a lot to take in during a short period. From the moment the case begins, you are making your human judgments of the players involved, trying to listen to what they are saying, observing the evidence they are pointing out to you, and you’re searching for answers. It’s pretty exhausting. So when you’re proceeding through your case, put yourself in the juror's shoes and recognize that while you’ve been living with your case for months (or even years), the jury is just coming to the table.
- Respect the jury’s time – present your case as seamlessly as possible. Of course, no attorney wants to present a case sloppily. But even little missteps can frustrate a jury. Spending time looking for your exhibits or notes while the jury waits can be very distracting. Asking compound and complex questions, either resulting in an objection or a complicated answer is counterproductive. Refusing to address an issue raised by a judge succinctly is not helpful and frustrating for a jury.
- Be kind. In one instance, one of the competitors was frustrated with his teammate and made just a brief facial expression to the teammate to let him know it. While I noticed it to be a bit awkward, upon discussing the case with fellow jurors, many pointed out that brief moment as significant. The jury is watching not only your interaction with the judge but also every interaction with everyone in the room – opposing counsel, your co-counsel, even the bailiff. Don’t let a moment of weakness hurt your long-term goal.
- Life experience does matter. The other members of our jury were diverse, and I was truly amazed how my views on the case differed from others when it seemed so clear to me. I’m a criminal defense attorney, this was a criminal trial, and I saw an easy “not guilty.” Others were leaning towards conviction. It just reinforced in my mind the importance of thinking through jury selection.
If you’re a fellow attorney, I urge you to take the time to help out with mock jury trial competitions. Your experience will help mold the trial attorneys of tomorrow. And at least in my opinion, it will give you things to think about when trying your own cases. It's also a lot of fun!