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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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