How to Win Over the Jury
Tips for Expert Witnesses (and Legal Counsel) from a Litigation Strategist
Expert witnesses need to prepare, but what other factors may help the expert win-over the jury? Wendy Pearson, a seasoned litigation strategist, shares her views on this subject.
At trial, the jury decides who wins the case.¬† As the expert, you must testify so that the jurors listen intently, comprehend what you are saying, and ultimately remember and rely on your expert opinions during their deliberations on the verdict.¬† In addition to advance preparation of your actual testimony, there are several things to be aware of that you can do from the moment you are called to the stand until you leave the witness box that can help you win over the jury.
Pass the Blink Test
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When you are called to the stand to testify and the jurors see you for the first time, they will size you up in the blink of an eye‚ÄĒliterally within tenths of a second.¬† Your first impression is critical for establishing a rapport with the jury. ¬†The jury will closely observe your face, your hair, your attire, and your attitude. ¬†How can you make a good first impression? ¬†Spend time in advance on your appearance, and be very mindful of your demeanor.
You must be well-groomed and professionally dressed. ¬†Make sure your attire is modern and properly tailored. ¬†A professional look shows you take your role seriously and have respect for the court. ¬†Looking unkempt conveys you are potentially inexperienced and not serious about your role as an expert overall.
As you approach the witness box, walk confidently and make eye contact with both the judge and the jury. ¬†You want to show the jurors with your body language that you are eager to educate them.¬† Slouching or looking at your feet as you walk toward the stand gives the impression you are neither confident nor interested in being in the courtroom.
The effective expert enters the courtroom fully aware of the blink test, and knows how to use appearance and demeanor to make a great first impression before saying a word.
Likeability is crucial for an expert since the jury will be more receptive to your opinions if you are likeable. ¬†The jurors need to see you are someone with whom they can identify, except that you have specialized knowledge that will help them make a correct decision in the case.¬† How do you establish this connection with the jurors? ¬†Relate to them.
In the Box
When you enter the witness box, sit down and adjust the microphone to a comfortable height for speaking without straining or sitting awkwardly. ¬†Next, swivel the chair toward the jurors and, with a smile on your face, try to make brief eye contact with several of them.¬† They will hopefully acknowledge you by smiling back and/or nodding their heads.¬† You will then take the oath, swearing to tell the truth with a strong ‚ÄúYes.‚ÄĚ
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† In the Spotlight
The attorney for your side, whom the jury already knows through the jury selection process, will introduce you formally by asking you to state your name for the record. ¬†Next, you will be asked a series of questions about your education and experience. ¬†These should be easy questions, giving you the opportunity to connect with the jurors. ¬†Be sure to elaborate on those credentials most relevant to your opinions and share something relevant about your personal life (responses you should have discussed with the attorney in advance). ¬†Whenever you give more than a ‚Äúyes‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúno‚ÄĚ response, address the jury with your answer. ¬†Your likeability is enhanced by cultivating this direct connection during your testimony.¬† Your deference to the jurors makes them feel important, as they should.
The effective expert enters the witness box fully aware that likeability helps gain credibility, and knows it is necessary to establish a connection with the jury early on in the witness box.
Act Natural and Keep Your Cool
Throughout your testimony‚ÄĒduring both direct and cross examinations‚ÄĒyou need to show appropriate emotion and animation in your responses.¬† Use your own natural mannerisms as long as they are not distracting.
This is your chance to have a comfortable dialogue with the attorney on your side. ¬†Though you should have practiced the Q&A in advance, you do not want to sound too rehearsed and emotionless. ¬†Speak and act naturally. ¬†Inflect your voice to stress significant points, nod your head to acknowledge an important question, shake your head when answering no, or use your hands to illustrate a concept.¬† Most importantly, do not forget to address the jury while answering.¬† You will lose the jurors if you are stiff, speak in a monotone, or ignore them while you are testifying.
Also, jurors follow movement.¬† If you have an exhibit or demonstrative you want to explain up close, ask the judge for permission to leave your seat so you may do so.¬† Just be careful not to overdo it.
You must be in control of your emotions, even when the opposing attorney starts challenging your opinions. ¬†The opposing attorney will attempt to discredit you and break the connection you have already established. ¬†However, your likeability will be enhanced when the jury sees you can keep your cool. ¬†Think of cross-examination as another opportunity to explain the basis of your opinions in more detail. ¬†Treating cross-examination, this way will remind you to address the jury during your answers.
The biggest mistake you can make during cross-examination is to completely change your tone when the opposing attorney is questioning you. ¬†You must resist raising your voice, showing agitation, or being overly defensive when the questions become pejorative or adversarial. ¬†Cross-examination may be the final chance for the jurors to see and hear your testimony and you do not want to leave them with a negative last impression.
The effective expert is fully aware that likeability won during direct examination can be lost under cross-examination, and knows how to act natural and keep cool when testifying.
Remember the Judge
The judge oversees the trial and is in charge of what testimony the jury can and cannot consider during its deliberations. ¬†He or she is also sizing up your likeability and credibility. ¬†Sometimes the judge may ask you questions directly.¬† Do not panic! ¬†Maintain the same tone you were using with the jury. ¬†When you answer, turn to face the judge and respond directly and succinctly.¬† Though you are not facing them at this moment, the jurors will be paying very close attention to how you interact with the judge.
A Final Note
Your role as an expert in the courtroom is to be a strong advocate of your opinions and to persuade the jury to rely on your testimony.¬† Your appearance, demeanor, emotions, and body language all need to resonate with the jurors while you are testifying. ¬†Knowing this in advance will help you be an effective expert witness at trial.
Wendy Pearson, founder of Pearson Research Group, has more than 15 years of experience providing strategic litigation support and expert witness support on over 50 major cases involving contaminants in the environment. She assists attorneys with case assessments, case strategy, understanding technical issues, fact and expert witness discovery, Daubert motions and responses, and direct and cross exams of experts at trial. Ms. Pearson fully supports expert witnesses throughout the litigation process to ensure high quality work product and sufficient preparation for deposition and trial. She holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering and a M.S. in Environmental Science and Engineering.
Ms. Pearson can be reached at (814) 240-2418 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on IMS-ExpertServices.com in the Expert Library on May 10, 2016.