Does Hamlet (or rather Polonius) make sense in the courtroom?
“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – Hamlet, Act I, sc. Iii
And that’s fine for an English major. But does it apply to trial lawyers? Can you really be “your own self” when presenting in the courtroom? We’ve written a bit about how to present yourself in court and were really impressed with a recent blog post over at From the Sidebar blog.
“Like a lot of lawyers in large firms, I wanted trial experience, but the opportunities were rare. A number of years ago, I was lucky enough to get the chance. I tried a lengthy jury trial and have tried many since. After the trial, a group of jury members walked over to me. I didn’t know what to expect and was a little nervous. One juror told me that they really respected me because they knew that I had a stutter. They stressed that my stutter was minor but that they noticed it and that they talked about it. The jurors said they admired my courage in being a trial lawyer. I was surprised and a little embarrassed by the jurors’ comments. My first thought was, I don’t remember stuttering that much. As the jurors walked away from me, I realized that I had something that was natural and genuine. It was an epiphany – my stutter was a great gift.”
It’s a beautiful post and the comments reflect gratitude for Dave’s courage and the inspiration he gives to others. And Dave’s reflection also gives us a good lesson to remember:
I am not suggesting that you should develop a stutter as a form of jury persuasion. If you do anything fake or insincere the jury will see through it. Never underestimate a jury’s power of perception. They “see” everything. Be yourself. Everything about you and your personal style can be a strength. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t identify your weaknesses and work on them – but don’t obsess about them. Instead, develop an unshakable strong belief in yourself.
Perhaps two of the most important things you can do to enhance your persuasiveness are to be the best version of yourself and to never ever underestimate the jury’s power of perception. It’s easy to lose track sometimes and to think we are able to trick the triers of fact. They almost always see through us.
We did a mock trial recently with multiple defendant presentations where we were asked to see what the jurors thought of the various attorney presenters. Juror ‘constructive’ comments perhaps gave more than they bargained for:
No eye contact, reading a script.
No facts, pieces of info to sway view. Assumes we can’t think for ourselves.
Very informative, but felt like he was talking down to me at the time.
He made eye contact but lacked the confidence and seemed to lack focus in the middle and the end.
Sometimes the person delivering the facts holds sway over Jurors because they’re more believable. This attorneys acts as if he’s reading instead of being knowledge about the case. It’s like he’s trying to get you to believe instead of the facts speaking for themselves.
His presentation was good just not convincing.
He appears sincere but has weak arguments.
Seemed very nervous and uncomfortable in front of everyone.
He makes me sleepy!
Male used double-speak to try to skew facts and acted as if we were too dumb to know diff. Female tried to “be one of us” and kept winking on key points. Very unprofessional. Please deal in facts and don’t assume I’m too dumb to interpret them.
In fairness, there were a multitude of complimentary comments as well, but as trial lawyers, you have to be worried about striking the wrong note. About being inauthentic or phony. Dave’s right. Jurors see everything! Being prevented by nature from masking this feature of his identity made him real, and made him more credible. Let jurors see you being sincere and giving them information as opposed to ‘spin’.