A juror’s goal during trial is to gather all of the information that he finds relevant to the making of his verdict decision. This article will focus upon inferences and judgments that jurors make about a case based upon their observations of the actions of the litigants themselves during witness preparation.
Jurors may not consciously make judgments on the basis of a litigant’s appearance, but there is no doubt that they make them. Once drawn, these conclusions become independent facts in jurors’ sets of information about the case as a whole. These facts, in turn, help them to assess the litigant’s assertions and their testimony. Further, these facts may affect the jurors’ perceptions of other evidence and the testimony of other witnesses.
When jurors look at litigants, they are looking for information. Does this person seem honest? Is he responsible, likeable, and sympathetic? Is he respectful and serious? That is, is he the type of person whom I would want to prevail in this case? Jurors also try to identify traits that are relevant to the specific case. Does this person seem like a good driver, a good father, or a good employee? Does he have any other traits that would make me favor his side of the case? Very often, these opinions are formed on the basis of observed traits that are not directly related to the case but merely seem like good predictors. A litigant who looks sleepy and inattentive will generally not be perceived as a good employee. A plaintiff with spiky hair, a nose ring, and a leather jacket will not be presumed to be a responsible driver. A woman with skimpy or clingy clothing or too much makeup and chewing gum will not seem like the distraught mother of an injured child.
What litigants wear—and how they behave—can be critical to the outcome of their case. Most attorneys are aware of this. However, very few litigants are. It is crucial to inform your clients about the importance of proper courtroom attire and behavior. They also need to understand that jurors don’t stop being jurors when they leave the courtroom. A litigant may encounter a juror in the restroom, the hallway, the lobby, the parking lot, or a restaurant. Therefore, they need to be aware of their behavior and appearance throughout the course of the trial.
Because attorneys are familiar with the courtroom environment, it is not unusual that one may fail to realize that his client is not. While we feel that proper courtroom behavior and attire are issues of common sense, many litigants are too worried about the case itself, their testimony, the ultimate outcome, and so on, to use their common sense. This article will attempt to cover some of the most important instructions for a litigant who hopes to come across as favorably as possible in front of a jury.