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April 01, 2011

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Comments

Denise

I work at a medium size Chicago firm as a litigation paralegal. Last October I went to trial with two of the partners of this firm in State court - Cook County Law Division. We ended up with a hung jury. All of the attorneys provided jurors with their business cards asking them to contact them if they were intereted in sharing their thoughts and comments about the trial. We received several calls from jurors.
Much to my surprise they commened on attorney attire. Defense counsel wore dark suits and solid ties, and dress shoes. Plaintiff's counsel wore rumpled suits in neutral colors, striped ties and casual shoes - one of Plaintiff's attorneys actually wore black GYM SHOES! Jurors told us that some jurors felt defense counsel was trying to look "big time" and like defense had $s and took offense to that.
The jurors were also offended by Defense counsel following rules and requesting permission to approach the bench or a witness. They were not, however, offended by Plaintiff's counsel screaming in witnesses faces or yelling out from their table in court - basically putting on a show. All of this I fear is the result of the opinion of "real court" from TV legal programs and what the public thinks is "real" court procedures!

Stewart Weltman

Denise: I cannot comment on what it was that turned the jurors off to the lawyers on your team. But if the jurors felt that defense counsel were trying to look big time, then that is something you all better factor in next time you try this or any case. As I said, it is just not the clothes - it is the overall appearance one creates. But it sounds like the plaintiffs' counsel had it right - rumpled suits - meaning they weren't sharply pressed (sort of like what we all wear) - striped ties (my choice) instead of solid color ties (I just don't like solid color ties in court - can't tell you why) - and street shoes (remember my friend who had holes in his penny loafers yet achieved a $226 million verdict on behalf of very very large company by the way). Although black gym shoes is a real outlier.

As far defense counsel approaching the bench - this I assume was for the purpose of requesting sidebars. Jurors hate - absolutely hate sidebars. I don't ever ask for them unless absolutely absolutely necessary. Jurors hate it when lawyers speak in secret with the judge. Notwithstanding, I have found it SOP that defense counsel always seek them. (Even heard jurors mumble once as we passed the juror box for yet another side bar requested by my opponent - "there goes Side Bar Bob again" - referring to my opponent.)

TV has affected jury trials. But what I hear from you is frustration at how TV has affected jury trials. In some ways it has but in others it still comes down to direct human to human communication. When jurors see it, they know it.

You all are fortunate - you got a hung jury. You now have a chance to retool.

Chris

Does a legal team dressed in similar colors and designs perhaps send a sub-conscious message of unity and organization that carries weight with the court members?

Cheers!

Stewart Weltman

I certainly was not advocating conscious uniformity. Not sure that is a good idea. I was just addressing how each individual might consider approaching courtroom attire choices. Not everyone should choose maroon ties and dark suits.

John

I think that if the Jurors felt that defense counsel were trying to look big time, then that is something you all better factor in next time you try this or any case.Jurors hate it when lawyers speak in secret with the judge. Notwithstanding, I have found it SOP that defense counsel always seek them, so no problem man, just keep calm and cheers.

Joan

As someone new to law, I find this post very interesting and enlightening. I think you're perspective on what makes a trial lawyer most effective, directness and honesty, is spot on, but I never really thought of the other aspects such as clothing subconsciously projecting a certain image that might dilute the power of one's case. Very interesting. Thanks.

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