I remember once sitting in court early into the defense opening statement, and the attorney was busy thanking the jurors, again. Even though they had already heard the spiel from the other side, and from this attorney’s colleague during voir dire, they were receiving another explanation of just how much the attorneys and the clients appreciated these citizens for doing their duty and showing up for jury service. From those on the panel, the non-verbal responses could not have been any more clear: “You’re welcome…. Now, get on with it!”
Thanking the jurors for their service is a common step, and it may be a ritual at this point that we don’t give a lot of thought to. The impulse to thank them is, of course, the right thing. Not only can it help assuage jurors’ feelings of irritation at having unexpectedly ended up on the panel, but it is also a chance for you as an attorney to show some empathy and humility. Still, it is best done as a brief and sincere moment. I too often see elaborate, repeated, or overlong thank-you’s being used as a substitute for more effective ways of getting into the heart of the case from the outset. So for this Thanksgiving Day post, I thought I would share three quick principles on the best ways for attorneys to take that step of giving thanks to the jurors in their openings.
ItShouldn’tBe Your First Thing
The thank-you to jurors is often the first thing out of the attorney’s mouth in opening statement. That might seem natural, but I think that sacrifices the golden moment when jurors are first turning their attention to you. That moment is so important because jurors are paying extremely close attention in those first few moments, and forming their impressions of you and your case. Instead of filing that time with boilerplate language that does not have anything to do with the case, it is far better to immediately hit your jury with a silver bullet introduction that boils down the case in compelling terms and establishes a theme. After that, you can thank them:
…That is what this case is about, and we will get into it in detail. But before that, I want to make sure you understand just how much we appreciate your role in this process…
It ShouldBe Single, Sincere, and Succinct
Thank them once and make it stick. You do not have to keep coming back to it. If your co-counsel has already thanked them effectively, you don’t have to add to that. And make it sincere. These days, with trials becoming less frequent, I think it truly is something to be thankful for when you have the chance to stand before a jury. If you are grateful for that, make sure jurors see it. But also remember that they are eager to get to work, and don’t want even the appearance of wasted time, so be succinct. The clichés that are used here are actually okay, because jurors don’t know they’re clichés. For example, I like the line I’ve heard from several attorneys, that “other than military service, jury duty is probably the most important thing you can do for your community and your Constitution.” Jurors are not too cynical to feel ennobled by their service.
It CanBe Directed to Your Side of the Case
You might consider the perfunctory “Thank you” to be fluff that has nothing to do with the case, but depending on your case, it might play a role. For example, think about what you are thanking them for. For being here? Formally, at least, they didn’t really have a choice. So what you are thanking them for is their willing participation – their attention, their efforts. You may be thanking them for the hard work of getting into the detail of the case, and if you represent the side that benefits more from that careful and detailed look, then the thanks you are giving them in advance is also a subtle request for them to give your case that kind of attention. Alternately, you might be thanking them for the hard work of setting aside their assumptions, for taking a fresh look, or even for plodding through what might be some mind-numbing detail. Thank them in advance for doing the kind of work, and for having the kind of investigative attitude that will help you make your case.