Jury Selection: Simple Rule 5: MacCarthy's Bar Rule

 Posted on August 21, 2009 in Uncategorized

Okay, those of you who identify themselves as "attorneys" and "Esquires", and anyone else who likes people to know that he has a law degree and is therefore superior: listen up. This one is for you.

The fifth Simple Rule for Better Jury Selection is blatantly stolen from and therefore named in honor of Chicago federal public defender Terry MacCarthy, who likes to say, "Talk in a courtroom like you would talk in a barroom."

The MacCarthy's Bar Rule:

Talk in jury selection like you would talk in a barroom.

This rule is in part a matter of word choice: don't use lawyerly words. If you might have to define a word for the jury, find some substitute that you won't have to define. For example, this process that we're studying is not "voir dire" but "jury selection". "Credibility" becomes "believability". The "jury charge" becomes "the judge's written instructions to you at the end of the case". And so forth.

It is also in part a matter of tone: don't condescend. You may think you're better than some of those 60 people, but you're not. More importantly, if it seems to those 60 people you're talking to that you think you're better than any of them, they're going to punish you for it. But don't grovel, either. Nobody likes a groveler.

We can talk about word choice and tone, but it's really about status. Jury duty is America's great leveler. You can play higher status than your jurors, talking down to them. They might nod, smile, and humor you, but they'll dislike you, and when they get out of your control (that is, back in the jury room) they're going to show you who is in fact boss. To your client's chagrin.

Or you can follow MacCarthy's Bar Rule, treating the jurors like equals whom you need to like and understand you. They won't bow and scrape, but they will understand you more, like you more, and communicate with you better.

Talk in jury selection like you would talk in a barroom.

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