How to Voir Dire a Jury: Goals, Tactics, & Effectiveness (Part 1)
Voir dire is the process of taking a panel of prospective jurors to determine which are most fit to hear and decide your case. In my five years of litigation practice, I have seen that voir dire appears to be the most uncertain and widely variable aspect of a trial. When it’s good, an engaging lawyer sets herself up for a good rapport with the jury. But when it’s bad, the jury is bored, the judge is bored, and opposing counsel is smirking wickedly while chomping at the bit to make a more favorable impression on the potential jurors.
I have interviewed several lawyers with the same 8 questions about their theories and methods in approaching the most effective ways to voir dire a jury. I have agreed to keep the identities of each of these litigators anonymous, but I still want to introduce you to the lawyers by way of their general practice type and jurisdiction: L1 has a civil defense practice in Alabama; L2 is a criminal prosecutor in Oregon; L3 is an insurance defense lawyer in California; and L4 practices in commercial litigation and debt collection in Virginia.
How to Voir Dire a Jury: Questions on Goals, Tactics, and Effectiveness
What do you try to accomplish with voir dire?
L1: First and foremost, I want the jury to begin connecting with me. I want them to see some personality and relax so they’ll feel free to respond to my questions. I’m seeking who would be a good fit for the case and give my client a fair shake, so getting to how they are predisposed or how they feel about certain things is key.
L2: I try and get my jury thinking about stuff from my perspective and find people that I don’t want.
L3: Apart from smoking out who can be challenged for cause, I look for thought processes and people who work in fields that require critical thinking.
L4: The purpose of voir dire is to create a jury that will be receptive to your story and the outcome that you are trying to obtain.
What methods or tactics do you use in voir dire to attempt to connect with or relate to the jury panel?
L1: I usually start off with something funny or cute to loosen them up, make them laugh, break the ice. If the Court allows, I walk around a little and into their “space” a little so they’ll relate to me and not see me as so formal. I might tell a quick story about an experience that they can relate to. (I’ve been on a jury, I know how you feel kind of thing.)
L2: I try and laugh and make a joke or two with them and connect that way. Also stand in the well.
L3: My awkwardness; I don’t mind showing that I’m a little nervous and I think it makes me more relatable. If I can make a joke at my own expense, I will.
L4: It is important to gauge the prospective juror’s positions on issues related to your cause. Dealing with debt? Ask questions about loan forgiveness.
On a scale of 1-10 how effective are you at voir dire?
L1: I strive to be a 10 but probably a 7 or 8.
L2: No clue. Juries do what they want.
L3: Uhh 4? Did well with one jury and poorly with the next.
L4: I would give myself a 6 right now.
What could you do to improve?
L1: Hmmmm. Get in front of a jury more often.
L2: Lots of things … but different each time I think.
L3: Improving my memory! Some lawyers are able to put names to faces immediately and it makes the back and forth much smoother. I aspire to that.
L4: Practice will make perfect. I need more trials.
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Artwork by Chris Martin.