Lynne Devenny at Practical Paralegalism has a well-done post that starts with a quote describing interviews with jurors who, “were seriously annoyed by some of the sneers, body language, guffaws and antics of the fire-breathing “let’s kick some ass” associates and paralegals in the firms helping the plaintiff and the co-defendant in and out of the courtroom.”
Lynne goes on to point out,
If you have been to a trial, you’ll know that jurors sometimes aren’t thinking about what you hope they’re thinking about (the trial), and they really are closely scrutinizing the lawyers and their assistants – their demeanor, their clothes, their hair, and heck, even their socks if the distance is too far between trouser hem and shoe – in and out of the courtroom.
Bottom line, paralegals assisting at trial do have to be careful not to be a distraction on many levels.
I recommend the full post for Lynne’s history as a nerd, but want to focus on her point a bit more as it is more important than many paralegals seems to realize. It is, indeed, necessary that the trial paralegal keep it in mind for themselves and the clients while the attorney focuses on other aspects of the trial presentation.
I focus on this in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, primarily addressing the issue of dress, but as the following passage suggests it applies to all activities, which are more directly discussed with regard to paralegals in another section of the book:
[D]ressing for success does not mean “look successful.” It’s my way of saying you have to be aware that the jury is not just looking at the evidence as presented; it is looking at the presenters of the evidence.
Many times the best dog and pony show wins a case (as long as the case is otherwise well prepared). Consider a real circus dog and pony show; the performer and the atmosphere are at least as important as the acts performed. This principle applies to almost any performance meant to leave an impression or make a point on an audience. Every political operative considers not just what is being said, but the backdrop for the speech. Rock stars don’t just sing – they perform. The jury is your attorney’s audience. They are watching, and waiting for, the show.
Like most performers, your legal team is “on” every moment the jurors are in the jury box (and when they are entering or leaving the box). They are watching not just the witness on the stand and the attorney examining the witness, but also the rest of the “performance.”
In this respect it is important how the performers dress and appear to the jury. The performers include the attorney, the paralegal, the client and the witnesses. Each of you most dress appropriately for your role keeping in mind that you must dress for the jury. Even jurors who seem to be paying little attention seem to notice clothing – distracting ties, short skirts, body-piercing and tattoos. If a client is pleading poverty, she cannot show up day after day in $300 dollar outfits, dazzling jewelry, $30 nails and $50 hair. (In my early days of practice a client met me at the courthouse for a hearing to determine whether she was in contempt of court for failure to pay a $100 fine in exactly that fashion.) An expert witness will not impress a jury if he dresses unprofessionally. In fact, he should dress for the jury’s conception of his profession – a doctor as a doctor, a contractor as a contractor and a professor as a professor.
Remind clients and witnesses that they are subject to observation by the jury anytime jurors are present. A jury will assume that a client who is rude to, or snarls at the other party, was equally rude and disagreeable during the event or events that led the parties to court, regardless of how that client or witness presents on the stand. In fact, a client or witness who acts differently on the stand than when he thinks the jury isn’t watching is telling the jury not to believe him as his presentation on the stand is not the “true” him.
Jurors generally do not react favorably to clients who mumble “that’s a lie” under their breath, gasp and shake their heads in reaction to a witness’ testimony. Clients who squirm, constantly adjust their clothes (this happens a lot with clients not used to wearing a tie who “dress up” just for the trial), or fidget nervously may look as though they have something to hide.
Clients and witnesses seldom of much awareness of these factors. The poverty pleading client who dressed so fashionably in the example above simply had no conception of how her appearance clashed with the purpose of the hearing. They need to be informed by the paralegal. Preparing the clients and witnesses in this way is an important part of overall part of preparing and managing litigation.
Legal professionals represent the clients. From the juror’s perspective this means what we do says something about our clients. It is our job to make sure the jurors like what our actions say about our client.
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