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Commentary: Increase your believability in the courtroom

We’ve all heard the joke: “How do you know when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving.”

When that crack serves as the undercurrent of what jurors think about you and your profession before you even open your mouth, it can be difficult to convince them otherwise.

The concept of getting jurors to believe you is particularly difficult at trial, because jurors have little time to evaluate you, and the subject matter is often complicated. The following tips can help you be more believable in front of a jury and help build the foundation for a winning case.

1) Be human.

I’ve talked about this concept before: Lawyers are people, too. Any chance to bond with a juror works to your advantage. This generally happens during voir dire; however, it can happen at any moment during the trial.

For example, a juror mentions during voir dire that fishing is his passion. Fishing might be something you like to do as well. A witness admits a mistake he made on the job at one point; you can, with the appropriate amount of levity, admit that you have made your share of mistakes, too.

Whatever it is, the idea is to minimize and/or eliminate the perceived barriers between you and the jury.

2) Be trustworthy.

In real life, trust is established over time, but in a trial it can start in opening statements by being realistic and reducing any exaggerations. Phrases such as “every customer complained about the product,” or “they were literally warned hundreds of times,” or “every transaction the defendant was involved in was criminal” are red flags because they simply aren’t believable.

If the evidence shows that those “hundreds” of warnings were really 97, or the defendant’s transactions were not all criminal, jurors will not believe other things you say.

Stay away from words like “every,” “all,” “always,” “literally,” “never,” “worst,” etc. The superlatives raise red flags with jurors and can rarely all be sustained throughout trial.

3) Understate some of the issues.

It may seem counterintuitive, but understating some issues actually lends you more believability.

For example, instead of arguing that only hundreds of millions of dollars in punitives will punish the defendant company, argue instead that, while hundreds of millions of dollars is a lot of money, it will not come close to bankrupting the defendant and is merely a good start to send it a message.

Or, to continue the complaint example from above, instead of saying there were literally hundreds of complaints, position the truth as follows: Even though there were only about 100 complaints, isn’t one enough when it comes to safety? Why does the defendant need hundreds of complaint before it looks into the issue?

4) Be specific.

Instead of rounding your numbers up to the nearest million for damages, add up the exact amounts. Example: past medical was $342,129.61. That number is verifiable, and jurors will assume any rounding up is a ruse to put money in your pocket.

Another involves market share. Instead of arguing your company has only 70 percent of the market share, report the accurate 72.3-percent figure, but explain that that shows strong branding and great service rather than anything sinister.

5) Be organized.

An organized speaker avoids hemming and hawing and interspersing “ums” and “you knows” into his presentations. Consultants hear from actual jurors over and over again how the attorney who was concise, organized and confident came across much better at trial.

Practice and practice some more prior to taking the podium, as jurors expect attorneys to perform almost flawlessly. In post-trial interviews, jurors have said that “lawyers are getting paid a ton of money to represent their clients” and should do so professionally. Filler words and phrases detract from the message and hurt your believability.

Julie Campanini is the founder and principal at Trial Insights. She can be contacted at A version of this column originally appeared in Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly, sister publication to The Daily Record.