In "Jury Selection: Address the Negative Head-On," I suggested that you should be able to address any troublesome aspects of your case or defense "in the form of questions." But how do you communicate difficult concepts with potential jurors with questions--questions designed to get the potential jurors talking?
Here's an example. Imagine a plaintiffs' lawyer with an auto case. In this age of tort reform, the lawyer knows that some of the potential jurors will be asking themselves why the plaintiff cared so little about "personal responsibility" that she decided to take the drastic action of filing a lawsuit. It's a common point of view, and it comes as no surprise to the lawyer that one of the jury panelists raises his hand and admits that ever since the McDonald's case, he's been so bothered by the idea of lawyers and lawsuits that he feels uncomfortable today in the courtroom.
Here is an example of the way this issue could be addressed with questions--
- You know, Mr. Panelist, I've heard a lot of complaints about that McDonald's case in the past few years. But I also know that some of the facts about that case are not all that well known. Would it surprise you that the woman who sued McDonald's was burned so badly that she had to have skin graft operations and had $20,000 in medical bills?
- Does it surprise anyone that McDonald's had more than 700 injury reports about its hot coffee before that woman became burned?
- Those are just a few of the facts that aren't well known. Who else has an opinion about the McDonald's case one way or the other? Raise your hands if you've heard about it. It looks like everyone has heard about it. What opinions do you have about the case?
It's good when you can get the panelists talking, even talking to one another. When one jury panelist speaks, you can ask another who's already spoken, "Mr. Panelist, how would you respond to that?"
Of course, if a potential juror admits to a strong bias against your side, you should lay a foundation to strike that potential juror for cause, but that's a topic for another day. Meanwhile, the jury panelists in the example are still wondering about that notion of "personal responsibility." The questioning continues--
- Let's move on from the McDonald's case and talk about the issue of lawsuits for a few minutes. Does anyone have a problem with the idea that people should expect to have to live up to their legal obligations under the law?
- Does anyone think that it's okay to cause harm to another person and not expect to be held legally responsible?
- One way that someone can enforce a legal obligation against someone else in our country is by using the court system. Does anyone have a problem with a person trying to enforce a legal obligation by using the court system?
These questions, of course, are only meant to illustrate the way that a particular point of view about complex issues can be expressed through questions designed to get the potential jurors talking. Though the example is presented from a plaintiff lawyer's point of view, it applies equally to the defense. During jury selection, both sides want to make the potential jurors comfortable enough with the process that they admit their prejudices and biases.