While there are many regional differences in the pronunciation of the term “voir dire,” jury selection is an important and integral part of the American legal system. Whether conducted by the court or by counsel, by general questioning or specific inquiry, or even simply based on questionnaires completed by prospective jurors, no one accused of a crime should be judged by a group of strangers about whom nothing is known.
Effective jury selection is based on a simple equation: If jurors can be fair and impartial, set aside personal prejudices, and sit for the duration of trial, they are eligible to serve. Nevertheless, there are so many intangibles that go into the selection of any one juror that it is oftentimes a miracle that a group of twelve of them may be relied on to render justice. And yet, our system of justice is revered as a model of fairness.
What should any lawyer look for in a potential juror? The person that will side with their theory of the case. How does one know? By asking short, relevant questions designed to elicit meaningful responses. How is that done? By understanding the issues on both sides of the case, then fashioning questions that preview the importance of those issues. Is there a formula for deciding who is the best juror? This is an art form based upon experience, and no lawyer alive (or dead) can recite a formula. The best trial attorneys are those that understand the issues, the law, and human nature. As there would be no trial without disputes as to the issues or the law, the best trial attorneys are necessarily those with the best ability to convey their side effectively, and do so in front of the most receptive panel of disparate human beings.
Arrogance, belligerence, and indifference are not characteristics that potential jurors respond to well, yet these are complaints often made by jurors after trials end (and usually made to the winning attorney about the shortcomings of losing counsel). Why, then, are so many trial attorneys regarded as arrogant, belligerent, or indifferent? Because they forget that jury trials are often more about people than about issues and the law.
For every successful trial attorney, there has been at least one brutal lesson learned: Brilliance on paper never prevails over the simple human touch necessary for connecting with jurors.
Volumes have been written about jury selection, and many more are certain to appear, but if arrogance cannot be checked at the courthouse door, there is no point in walking through it.
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