Not many people enjoy jury duty.
In addition to taking up your precious time, the responsibilities of being a juror can be overwhelming, yet the process of jury duty can be extremely boring. After listening to hour after hour of dry, barely intelligible testimony, you’re then required to make a decision which could effectively alter another person’s entire future (no pressure there). The truly overwhelming aspect, however, is knowing that you must pay attention and understand what is being said, but not being able to do so because of the tone and complexities of the dialogues.
Useless Courtroom Dialogue
If you learned one thing in school it was that if you didn’t understand something, you couldn’t pay attention to it.
“I prithee, sweet wag, shall there be gallows standing in England when”…[oh look, a bird]…“thou art king and resolution”…[wonder what they’re serving for lunch]…“thus fubbed as it is with the rusty”…[fourteen minutes and fifty-four more seconds]…“curb of old father Antic”…[forty-eight…forty seven]…“the law?”
Sound familiar? Unfortunately, the same reaction holds true for jurors and outdated legal or confusing technical jargon:
“The revocation by these Regulations of a saving on the previous revocation”…[I wonder if ‘The Revenant’ is on Netflix yet]…“of a provision does not affect the operation of the saving”…[I should have worn different shoes]…“insofar as it is not specifically reproduced”…[Is it lunchtime yet?]…“in these Regulations but”…[twelve minutes until noon] “remains capable of”…[eleven fifty-two]…“having effect.”
However, instead of getting a poor grade on a test, if a juror zones out or becomes confused, he may wind up risking your client’s entire future.
The CliffsNotes Approach
Just as you may have relied on the condensed and simplified CliffsNotes study guides for your Shakespeare quiz, you can help your jurors understand the testimony by encouraging simpler speech. Whether as an attorney or witness, by taking the time to clarify what you’re saying—or better yet, to streamline your words in the first place—you can ensure that the jury will understand the meaning of what is being said and stay alert during the proceedings.
Before your next trial, prepare yourself and your witnesses by reiterating the importance of the following when asking questions and as well as answering them.
- Keep it interesting. You don’t want to bore the jury with mundane or repetitive questions and statements. If you want to reiterate a point, make sure you add some pizzazz to the dialogue to keep the jury interested.
- Keep it simple. Shakespeare was a classic wordsmith—you don’t have to be, not should you be. Ask straightforward questions to get straightforward answers. Trying to show how smart you are could not only confuse the witness and the jury but it could also make you sound pompous and overconfident.
- Keep it civil toward the witness and the jury. You don’t want to antagonize the witness or jury as it will only cause resentment and anger—which could then lead to an unfavorable case outcome. You don’t have to walk on eggshells. You can be assertive, just don’t be a bully.
- Keep it short. Long-winded answers can not only get boring but it can seem like you’re rambling without really knowing what you’re talking about. This doesn’t bode well for jury confidence. When asked a question, make sure you answer it completely but concisely as well. Don’t use 15 words when three will do.
- Keep it simple. You want the jury to sympathize with you and take you at your word. They can’t do that if your word has 17 syllables. You may have an advanced degree from a prestigious university; you can be sure the typical juror (not to mention the judge) does not.
- Keeping it thoughtful. Just like an attorney, you don’t want to antagonize or belittle the jury. The best answer is a thoughtful yet truthful one.