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Nordstrom: Book offers little insight for experienced trial attorneys

Rodney Nordstrom
October 10, 2012
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The book, “Winning the Jury’s Attention: Presenting Evidence from Voir Dire to Closing,” piqued my attention as a trial lawyer and trial consultant. Anything that improves our ability to “win over” the jury for our client is worth learning about. As most trial attorneys realize, jurors are not simply going to hand over their undivided attention for a lengthy trial unless the trial attorney is capable of making it interesting for them. In the courtroom you simply cannot demand attention but must attract attention. In order to do this, you need to select the right message, present it in the right way, and do so within the allotted time. Although the tips offered in the book are solid, they are tips we have heard before.

Author Trey Cox reminds us lawyers are not considerate of jurors’ time. Jurors have lives, husbands, wives and jobs to get back to. Every minute they are sitting in trial, their normal living activity is disrupted. And though jurors take their duties seriously and will work hard to sit in judgment of your case, they do not want their time to be wasted. Too often trial lawyers waste their time by repeating the same information and asking the same questions. This turns jurors off.

Trial lawyers have to show that they are proficient and efficient at what they do. Jurors flyspeck your every move for clues to your credibility, competence and trustworthiness. If you appear lost and confused or labor over the admission of exhibits, neither you, your abilities, nor your trustworthiness will rate very high with the jury. On the other hand, if you move through the evidence efficiently, with confidence, and demonstrate a mastery of the facts, the jury will surrender its attention to you because you are a leader in the courtroom.

Cox reminds us of several common principles for communicating effectively with a jury:

• The Personal Credibility Principle: Demonstrate competence, accuracy, leadership and efficiency to gain credibility.

• The Signaling Principle: People learn better when the material is presented with clear outlines and headings.

• The Segmentation Principle: People learn better when information is presented in bite-sized chunks.

• The Multimedia Principle: People learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.

• The Coherence Principle: People learn better when extraneous material is excluded.

• The Stickiness Principle: Make your themes and ideas “sticky.”

• The Jolt Principle: Periodically jolt your jury so they don’t bolt.

Although these seven principles are always good reminders, they offered little additional new information for anyone having done more than a few jury trials. These suggestions are common sense and second nature to experienced litigators.

One shortcoming of the book is that the author does not clearly identify his target audience. This is not necessarily a big deal, but experienced litigators will find the book underwhelming. A college pre-law student or law student, taking a first trial advocacy class, would get more out of it.

The author appears to be committed to understanding jurors but his trial inexperience is demonstrated by his lack of examples of actual trial applications. In other words, he advances the usual tips important to most trial advocates; i.e., “don’t speak like a lawyer,” “be confident” and “value the jury’s time.” He also cites to the perfunctory Aristotle’s Principles of Rhetoric (Logos, Pathos and Ethos) and Rule of Threes. The book reads more like a primer to jury selection, rather than a book on meaningful tips for experienced litigators.

The author heralds his many personal accomplishments; however many of these compliments refer to his rating in Martindale Hubble and recognition by the “Best Lawyers” title but do not reference any meaningful or significant trial victories let alone trial experiences. He also references his experience clerking for a federal District judge.

Although Cox is described in his book as “a pioneer in complex technology and neuroscientific principles to improve jury communications and persuasion,” nothing in the book appears to be “pioneering” and little, if any, offers to “advanced technology and neuroscientific principles” as they relate to “winning” jurors’ attention. Despite the limitations mentioned above, Cox’s effort is quite apparent. The book does offer merit as an overview of how common skills can benefit a beginning trial lawyer. The book by Trey Cox is 201 pages, 14 chapters, published by First Chair Press, and sells for $69.95.•

Rodney Nordstrom Ph.D., J.D., is a trial consultant with his company Litigation Simulation Services (www.litsim) located in Peoria, Ill. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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    Photo taken in the Bencher's Room of the Honorable Society of the King's Inns: (From left to right) Michael Collins SC, Mr Justice Paul Carney, Dermot Gleeson SC, Mr Justice Niall Fennelly, Tom Girardi, David Barniville SC, Mr. Justice Donal O'Donnell, Turlough O'Donnell SC, Paul Gallaher SC, Mr. Justice Colm Ó h’Eochaidh, Brian Murray SC, Paul Sreenan SC and Mr. trial attorneys

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  1. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  2. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  3. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  4. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  5. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

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