Voir dire is your chance to determine which prospective jurors are qualified to sit on the jury in your trial. Regardless of whether you do the voir dire yourself or the judge does it, voir dire is a terrific opportunity to develop rapport with jurors and make them feel comfortable in your presence.
Don’t squander that opportunity by creating barriers to that rapport or by making jurors like you less!
The Top 10 Voir Dire Mistakes (complete w/ Index of Juror Dislike)
I’ve complied a list of the Top 10 Mistakes that attorneys make often during voir dire that almost always result in a diminished connection with the juror. In some instances, it also results in the jurors’ dislike of counsel. Don’t let this happen to you.
Mistake #1 : Not connecting with prospective jurors when they enter the room (Rapport/Dislike Score: -2)
You have an opportunity to connect with each juror as they enter the courtroom. Don’t miss the opportunity. Although you are standing when they enter, don’t use this as an opportunity to look at your notes or look at the floor. Try to make eye contact — friendly eye contact. And don’t frown or look preoccupied. As they say in all of the relationship books “be present.”
Mistake #2 : Not connecting with jurors when you are introduced during the voir dire (Rapport/Dislike Score: -4)
At the commencement of the voir dire process, the judge typically introduces the attorneys and asks them to stand briefly to determine if any of the prospective jurors know the attorneys. This moment of standing and sitting is a prime moment to create some rapport or diminish it.
I know it feels awkward to stand in front of a room of jurors and have them look at you (perhaps judging whether they like your suit, or your tie, or your face), but don’t give in to the impulse to be stiff and inaccessible. Stand up, try to manage a smile.
Sweep your head slowly and purposefully across the sea of juror faces. You’ll come off as secure and pleasant.
Mistake #3 : Adjusting your clothing in front of jurors (Rapport/Dislike Score: -4)
When you’re asked to stand in front of jurors as you’re introduced, don’t immediately begin adjusting your clothing. There’s no need to button your suit jacket up or straighten your tie (unless it’s really crooked and will hence be distracting). When you adjust your appearance in front of jurors too much, you come off as stiff or insecure and wanting to impress them. Jurors are always suspicious at first of attorneys and how genuine they are.
You see how friendly and accessible this attorney is?
He’s even wearing a non-white shirt which adds to the feeling that he is not overly serious and starchy. One of your own voir dire goals should be to not be starchy or stiff. Be genuine. Be yourself — even if your suit jacket is unbuttoned.
Mistake #4 : Staring over the top of your reading glasses (Rapport/Dislike Score: -7)
If you have to wear reading glasses, but don’t need them to see juror faces, take them off when you can. Don’t stare over the top of them like a judgmental parent or school teacher. It feels extremely unfriendly. Jurors hate this. It makes them feel scrutinized and judged in the worst way, and you’ll lose points because of it.
Mistake #5 : Discussing or taking notes about a juror while staring at the juror (Rapport/Dislike Score: -6)
Nobody likes being stared at. Nobody likes being stared at while notes are taken about them. Jurors don’t feel any differently. Don’t stare at any juror. Find ways to discuss the jurors and take notes without making any of them feel you are giving them the evil eye.
Mistake #6 : Pointing at jurors (Rapport/Dislike Score: -10)
This one should be obvious. I don’t like being pointed at. You don’t like being pointed at. And jurors don’t like being pointed at. So don’t point at jurors — for any reason. Just don’t.
This attorney is pointing. He thinks it makes him look powerful. It just makes him unlikable.
Mistake #7 : Not having a sense of humor (Rapport/Dislike Score: -5)
There may come a time when something amusing happens in the courtroom during voir dire. A prospective juror might have a funny answer to a question. Or a judge might make a joke that everyone laughs at. You can laugh too.
It’s okay to have a sense of humor in the courtroom. It’s a bad thing to be viewed as stiff, or too serious, or humorless. Jurors don’t want to dread spending time with you. They want to know that spending time with you won’t be unpleasant. Humorless people are unpleasant. Relax and laugh where appropriate.
Mistake #8 : Using a clipboard to write down things about jurors (Rapport/Dislike Score: -6).
Using a clipboard to take notes about jurors makes you appear like someone checking inventory at Walmart. Or like a researcher taking notes on a person who is a subject in a science experiment. In my case, clipboards always remind me of my junior high P.E. teacher who was tracking how many pull-ups I could not do…
None of these recollections are warm. They won’t help you build rapport.
This woman uses a clipboard. She looks official. Jurors at voir dire will dislike her too.
The clipboard feels like an official barrier to developing rapport. (As an aside, she also seems to be humorless which would be an additional voir dire mistake (see Mistake #7, supra)).
In my next blog, I will be discussing the “Post-It Note Method of Taking Notes at Voir Dire”. So stay tuned. Until then, avoid the clipboard.
Mistake #9 : Not making jurors feel welcome at the bench (Rapport/Dislike Score: -7)
When jurors come to the bench to answer a question, they are already a little apprehensive. Most of them have never been this close to a judge. Don’t make them feel unwelcome. Don’t turn your back to them as the come forward. Turn and face them as they arrive. Make room for them in front of the bench. Look at them while they are speaking, even if it’s to the judge and not you.
Be interested in what they are saying. And if you dislike them in any way, or think what they is saying is not valuable to you and your client, don’t show it.
Don’t forget that many of the other jurors will be watching what steps you take to make their compatriot feel welcome. It’s a good opportunity to make a favorable impression on those potential jurors as well.
Mistake #10 : Not saying thank you to jurors when they leave the bench (Rapport/Dislike Score: -5)
When a juror leaves the bench after coming up to answer a question, don’t forget to say thank you and smile pleasantly. This should be an important part of your effort to build rapport. Being too preoccupied with your own notes or being discourteous won’t sit well with this juror or fellow jurors.
Here’s the takeaway:
What these Top 10 Mistakes have in common is that they are all barriers to building rapport In some cases, making these mistakes may start you out in the trial with a negative score with the jury. But, the good news is that even if you are doing them, they can all be corrected immediately. So be pleasant, be accessible, be present, be relaxed, be courteous, and be genuine. If you make rapport building a goal of your voir dire, you’ll avoid these mistakes — and, in the process, help the jurors help your client.
Now, go select a jury.
Would you like to learn how to better connect with jurors and understand what they think? We can help you with voir dire in your case. Just contact me at The Winning Litigator.