By Jocelyn Cinquino
Special to the Legal
When it comes to a jury trial, no detail gets overlooked by those sitting on the panel. Generally speaking, jurors do a decent job of paying attention to the evidence and testimony offered, but much more goes into their ultimate decision than those factors alone. In an effort to have control and ownership over their verdict, jurors routinely attempt to make sense of the case by relying on their own abilities to sniff out the truth. They zero in on your behavior as counsel, how the judge reacts to the case being made and how their fellow jurors seem to be managing. Your corporate representative will be held to the same scrutiny, so your choice for the face of the company rightly becomes a key consideration for trial.
So how do you make that choice? Here are some strategies that work:
- Make sure the corporate representative is relevant. For jurors to accept your corporate representative as legitimate, that person should have something to do with the case or some easily identifiable stake in the company if at all possible. Otherwise, you run the risk of jurors thinking that your representative is staged. Case in point: Jurors in an employment discrimination case took exception to the presence of a “random”—in their words—female minority from the company being sued seated at the defense counsel table. She did not hold a key role at the company and was not involved in the claims at hand. Consequently, she had nothing to testify to, so her presence as the company’s representative seemed contrived. Even if that is not the actual case, it’s not worth running the risk that jurors will make that assumption. You’ll do better to choose someone who has a discernible connection to the case rather than one that seems like a good fit based on appearances alone.
- Make sure he or she has something to say. The importance of the representative’s relevance to the case and his or her involvement as a witness go hand in hand. He or she can’t be the mysterious stranger that sits in silence throughout the trial. That can make it seem more like the representative is some kind of mole for the company, tasked with reporting back to corporate what was going on at trial, rather than a real player who should be there to witness the trial firsthand. When a corporate representative is also an actual witness at trial, he or she can take advantage of that opportunity to build rapport with jurors and help expand the jurors’ understanding of the case from the company’s overall view. Having that connection to jurors is essential to establish not only the representative’s own credibility, but the corporation’s credibility as well.
- Make sure he or she is available throughout trial. Coming in and out suggests to jurors that the company isn’t as invested in the case as it should be and underscores claims that the company operated with disregard for the complaining party or that the claims the party brings are not as important to the company as it says they are. Depending on the length of the trial, jurors’ expectation for how consistently the representative attends trial can vary, but you can only benefit if your representative makes the effort to be at trial for as long as the jurors are made to be there.
- Make sure he or she knows he or she is on display and is comfortable with that. Just as they pay attention to counsel, jurors will be watching the corporate representative like a hawk. Laughing or joking during breaks and making audible reactions to testimony and evidence during the proceedings will only be met with criticism by jurors. There are many opportunities for jurors to turn their attention to counsel’s table during the trial, and if they perceive for a moment that the representative does not demonstrate the requisite seriousness and concentration for someone in that role, it can have a significant impact on the outcome. It is a lot easier for jurors to be swayed by the way someone is behaving rather than have to make sense out of complicated evidence. Your corporate representative has to be able to keep his or her emotions in check and be prepared to put his or her game face on until he or she is well beyond the courthouse steps.
Jurors make judgment calls in the case based on the totality of what they hear presented, what they know from what life has taught them and from what they observe of those present at trial. Your choice of a corporate representative is no exception to that rule. Ensuring that representative meets jurors’ expectations will be just as important as ensuring the overall case itself meets their expectations in the end.
Jocelyn Cinquino is a jury consultant with MMG Jury Consulting. She holds a J.D. from Suffolk University Law School and an M.A. in forensic psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. For more than 10 years, her expertise in forensic psychology and law has been applied to civil and criminal cases throughout the country. Her work includes a specialization in complex jury research design and analysis, case development and advanced trial preparation including witness communication training, voir dire consultation and jury selection strategy.
This posting is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed or interpreted as advice specific to any matter. Each case is different and no strategy applies uniformly to all. If you have any questions regarding jury psychology that you would like to see addressed in this blog, please contact Cinquino at email@example.com or call 917-733-0770.