Voir dire is your chance to determine which prospective jurors are qualified to sit on the jury in your trial. Regardless of whether you do the voir dire yourself or the judge does it, voir dire is a terrific opportunity to develop rapport with jurors and make them feel comfortable in your presence. You’re sizing them up, and rest assured, they are forming opinions about the lawyers as voir dire gets underway.
The Top 10 Voir Dire Mistakes
Here’s a list of the Top 10 Mistakes that attorneys often make during voir dire that almost always result in a diminished connection with the juror. In some instances, it also results in the jurors’ dislike of counsel, and possibly the client you represent because the juror sees the lawyer as an extension of the client.
Mistake #1: Not Connecting with Prospective Jurors When They Enter the Courtroom
You have an opportunity to connect with each juror as they enter the courtroom. Don’t miss the opportunity. Although you are standing when they enter, don’t use this as an opportunity to look at your notes or look at the floor. Try to make eye contact – friendly eye contact. And don’t frown or look preoccupied. As they say in the relationship books “be present.” And face jurors as they walk into the courtroom as is shows them that they are important to you and is a non-verbal sign of respect.
Mistake #2: Not Connecting with Jurors Ehen You Are Introduced During the Voir Dire
At the commencement of the voir dire process, the judge typically introduces the attorneys and asks them to stand briefly to determine if any of the prospective jurors know the attorneys. This moment of standing and sitting is a prime moment to create some rapport or diminish it. The judge will also ask the panel of potential jurors if they know any of the litigants, just in case one of the litigants was their former landlord, or something of the like.
Mistake #3: Adjusting Your Clothing in Front of Jurors
When you’re asked to stand in front of jurors as you’re introduced, don’t immediately begin adjusting your clothing. There’s no need to button your suit jacket up or straighten your tie. When you adjust your appearance in front of jurors too much, you come off as stiff or insecure and wanting to impress them. Jurors are always suspicious at first of attorneys and real estate developers and how genuine they are.
One of your own voir dire goals should be to not be starchy or stiff. Be genuine. Be yourself — even if your suit jacket is unbuttoned.
Mistake #4: Staring Over the Top of Your Reading Glasses
If you have to wear reading glasses, but don’t need them to see juror faces, take them off when you can. Don’t stare over the top of them like a judgmental parent or school teacher. It feels extremely unfriendly. Jurors hate this. It makes them feel scrutinized and judged in the worst way, and you’ll lose points with them because of it.
Mistake #5: Discussing or Taking Notes About a Juror While Staring at the Juror
Nobody likes being stared at. Nobody likes being stared at while notes are taken about them. Jurors don’t feel any differently. Don’t stare at any juror. Find ways to discuss the jurors and take notes without making any of them feel you are giving them the evil eye or rating them.
Mistake #6: Pointing at Jurors
This one should be obvious. I don’t like being pointed at. You don’t like being pointed at. And jurors don’t like being pointed at. So don’t point at jurors, for any reason.
Mistake #7: Not Having a Sense of Humor
There may come a time when something amusing happens in the courtroom during voir dire. A prospective juror might have a funny answer to a question. Or a judge might make a joke that everyone laughs at. You can laugh too to show your human side, especially if it is a silly case in the first place.
It’s okay to have a sense of humor in the courtroom. It’s a bad thing to be viewed as stiff, or too serious, or humorless. Jurors don’t want to dread spending time with you. They want to know that spending time with you won’t be unpleasant. Humorless people are unpleasant. Relax and laugh where appropriate, as it demonstrates humanity.
Mistake #8: Using a Clipboard to Write Down Things About Jurors
Using a clipboard to take notes about jurors makes you appear like someone checking inventory at Target. Or like a researcher taking notes on a person who is a subject in a science experiment.
Mistake #9: Not Thanking the Jurors for Their Service
Jurors will be missing time from work, family and friends to do their civic duty. You may also explain to them that living in a free democratic society comes with sacrifices, like jury duty, and that many men and women have fought in wars to protect the freedoms that some people take for granted. Many people risk their lives to get to the United States of America, yearning for freedom and to escape tyrannical dictators.
Mistake #10: Not Making Jurors Feel Welcome at the Bench
When jurors come to the bench to answer a question, that they did not feel comfortable answering in front of the whole panel, they are already a little apprehensive. Most of them have never been this close to a judge. Don’t make them feel unwelcome. Don’t turn your back to them as they come forward. Turn and face them as they arrive. Make room for them in front of the bench. Look at them while they are speaking, even if it’s to the judge and not you.
Be interested in what they are saying. And if you dislike them in any way, or think that what they are saying is not valuable to you and your client, don’t show it.
Don’t forget that many of the other jurors will be watching what steps you take to make their fellow potential juror feel welcome. It’s a good opportunity to make a favorable impression on those potential jurors as well.
Jury selection is arguably one of the most important parts of any case, civil or criminal.