Trial lawyers know that all the years of hard work and preparation on a case may ultimately rest in the hands of a disparate group of community members otherwise known as jurors. So, what is most important to them? 

A recent article in the New York Law Journal offers some insight. It describes a Cornell Law Review article that discussed a juror survey by the Honorable Amy St. Eve, a federal district court judge in the Northern District of Illinois. Judge St. Eve sought to “provide the trial bar with real jurors’ insights on what they thought of the lawyers” who tried cases before them. 

The Cornell Law Review article,  What Juries Really Think: Practical Guidance for Trial Lawyers, details the results of a seven-year study of over 500 jury questionnaires, involving approximately 50 civil and criminal trials. Jurors were encouraged to respond anonymously, as the judge believed this was the best way to get unfiltered answers. The survey presented four open-ended questions:

  1. List three things the lawyers did that you liked.
  2. List three things the lawyers did that you did not like.
  3. What could the lawyers have done differently or better?
  4. Any other comments about the trial?

The response rates were approximately 90% for the first and second questions and about 52% for the third and fourth questions. The article detailed the following four categories of greatest importance:

  • Organization, Preparation, and Efficiency: Jurors value and expect when attorneys are organized.
  • Style and Delivery: Jurors expect attorneys to excel at presentation skills, including “appropriate eye contact and speaking loudly and slowly enough for the jury to hear and understand.” They do not like “courtroom drama and theatrical presentations.”
  • Attorney Behavior and Professionalism: Jurors expect lawyers to behave professionally and respectfully with court personnel, opposing counsel, and litigants. Jurors also prefer when lawyers speak directly to the jury. “Smug, arrogant, and presumptuous behavior” by attorneys disappoints jurors. 
  • Evidence Presentation: Jurors appreciate the orderly presentation of evidence and dislike repetitive, belaboring questions. 

While these findings seem obvious, their reinforcement is a good reminder: Keep these practices close to mind as you weave your way through your jury trials. 

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