Reading Jurors

The Legal Intelligencer has a blog with a smart title any trial lawyer would love: “Beware of the Smiling Juror.” In their heads, lawyers agree with the premise of the article which is: trying to read jurors is a complete waste of energy. But at trial, our hearts overrule our heads and we find ourselves interpreting more useless clues than we ever did on the dating circuit.oldschooljury

With respect to the smiling juror, the author writes:

Of course, we also have the ever-mysterious “smiling juror.” Many of us may have encountered that person who looks right at us when we give our presentations with a grin on her face. That person can make us feel good because a smile is typically a friendly gesture by someone who likes us and agrees with us … unless it is not. That beaming smile, as we all know, can also be a sign that this particular juror is happy to have the opportunity to stick it to us the first chance she gets.

Continuing with the heart/head metaphor, a plaintiffs’ personal injury trial lawyer’s head knows that the case is ultimately about whether the jurors believe the client is entitled to compensation? Does it help if the jury likes the client or the lawyer? Sure. Jurors are just like us. But, ultimately in many more cases than not, the jury comes to a fair resolution based on what they believe the evidence to be.


That’s the head talking, not the heart. When you are trying a case, in the heat of the battle, most lawyers (not me, of course!) begin thinking the jury’s verdict is a referendum on whether the jury likes us and thinks we are great lawyers. If you get a great verdict, your heart replaces your head and it really was all about you and you get your Sally Field at the Oscar’s moment. If you lose, you sober up and realize the case was not really about you. Ultimately, in the zero sum game of litigation, this is one of the few win-wins.

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  • I like your thought that this is one of the few win-wins for trial attorneys. Though, when I get a worse verdict than what I was hoping for I can’t help but take it as a serious blow to my trial chops. My initial thought is “maybe I am not as charming and engaging as I thought”. It is sobering to think that maybe we do not have as profound an affect on the outcome, during trial at least, as we initial thought. I think the attorneys biggest impact is behind the scenes with all the work and preparation in getting the case ready for trial and then in focus grouping and figuring out critical case theories and motions in limine etc. Anyway…interesting post.

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