Positioning the Jury as the Protagonist

For personal injury and wrongful death attorneys, clear, effective communication is a vital element of any successful case. A key theme we’ve discussed before is how good communication with our clients enables us to seek justice and healing on their behalf. In this post, we’re going to examine effective communication from another perspective: that of the juror.

The story of a case

In a sense, communicating to a jury is much like storytelling. What we’ve found works best is to make jury members feel as if they’re protagonists in our client’s story. We want them to understand that while the story may have started with our client and the defendant, it’s now in their hands to determine the story’s ending. We remind them of the power they hold to change someone’s future.

How to tell the story

Many other attorneys may employ the tactic of showcasing their client’s struggles in the aftermath of the defendant’s bad behavior. This technique helps the jury understand the client’s injuries so the jury will want to act in his or her favor—which is a fine place to start, but we take a slightly different approach: we focus on the defendant’s conduct.

Especially in this world of conservative juries and the supposed need for tort reform, it can be extremely important to focus on a defendant’s wrongful conduct or detail the rules they’ve broken.  Juries need to understand why a defendant’s conduct violated the explicit or implied rules and standards that everyone expects all members of the community to follow to keep the community safe. So, during all parts of the trial—opening statements, presenting evidence, and closing arguments—we focus much of our storytelling effort on the defendant’s conduct and how it violated community standards.

This approach also makes sense from a purely legal perspective. In civil litigation, the plaintiff can’t ask jurors to put themselves in their shoes (what’s known as a “golden rule argument”), because judges want juries to objectively consider the facts of a case, rather than respond in an emotional manner. Concentrating on the defendant’s wrongdoing and how it violated community standards helps ensure objective decision-making.

Clarifying the rules

It’s important to establish and emphasize the safety rules in question, and then show how the defendant has breached those rules. “Safety rules” often take the form of laws or regulations designed to protect people in a community. Traffic laws, for instance, are well documented safety rules—an accident caused by a driver who runs a red light, is a straightforward example of a broken safety rule which results in negative consequences.

In other circumstances, when there isn’t a specific law or regulation to point to, the recognized standards in the defendant’s industry or community serve as the safety rules.  A plaintiff often establishes those rules through expert witness testimony.  In medical malpractice cases, for example, an expert witness—a competent general practice doctor or surgeon—can help the jury understand what standard of care should be expected in a given medical situation. And sometimes, even the defendant’s own employees or representatives admit that a certain safety rule applies.

By using testimony from expert witnesses and from the defendant’s own representatives to establish safety rules, we take a difficult concept that most jurors don’t have direct experience with and break it down into something they can understand.

Jurors: Voices of the community

We strive to present our case in a way that lets jurors see themselves as active protagonists in the story that results in justice being served. We reinforce that their role is more than just listening to two opposing parties presenting evidence—it is to act as the voice of their community, and in essence decide what their community’s standards of care and safety rules are and will be.

How we communicate this idea varies with the facts and nature of each case. For instance, we had a business case where one of the themes we emphasized was simply that there should be more morality in business. There had been so many stories in the news about businesses acting dishonorably that we decided to emphasize a community standard of not giving a “free pass” for wrongful conduct just because it occurred in the business conduct. We reminded jurors that through their verdict, they could act as the voice of their community and deliver a powerful message. Their message could establish that morality is important in their community—even in business—and that the community would not tolerate the type of conduct that the defendant tried to get away with..

That kind of power and responsibility can be an excellent motivator for jury members to do the right thing on behalf of our clients and their community.

Connecting through honesty

Finally, how we communicate to juries is just as important as what we communicate. As a trial lawyer, to be the most effective we must open up and connect with the jury on a personal level.

While legal argument is important in each case, we try not to hide ourselves or our clients behind complex legal language.  We let our personalities come through so we can connect with jurors as people. Connecting with someone this way leads to better communication, which in turn makes it more likely that jurors will understand your case.

Authenticity is something we pride ourselves on—a core principle of our firm, in fact—and it sets us apart from other trial lawyers. Other attorneys may also use some of the techniques discussed here, but doing so without establishing a rapport and personal connection with jurors tends to make those techniques ring hollow. Authenticity is key.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

Civil Litigation Wins a Sign Company Showdown

It was a deal a couple of years in the making, and nobody dreamed it would end up in civil litigation.

BriteTech Sign Company* developed a new type of LED signage that was an improvement on the message boards you see in lots of places nowadays. But having the signs only got them so far. While they had the hardware, they did not have the business relationships to commercially sell the hardware or develop software to run the signs.

Enter our client Universal*, which had been cultivating a relationship with a major national restaurant chain for two years. Universal brokered a lucrative deal to install BriteTech’s new signs in the chain’s restaurants and coordinate software that would run the signs. Under the terms of the deal, Universal would pay a royalty to BriteTech, and BriteTech would do the installations at the restaurants. Universal would stay in place to manage the relationship and the service contract.

That’s what was supposed to happen, anyway.

When some problems cropped up during testing, BriteTech claimed—falsely—that the problems were Universal’s responsibility. The restaurant chain backed out of the deal and BriteTech went on to capture a far bigger payday by contracting to do all the work themselves, cutting out Universal entirely.

More than Just Numbers

The blow to Universal’s business was severe. The company was forced to lay off software engineers and other employees who would have done the work that Universal was cheated out of doing. Universal needed civil litigation lawyers, so they contacted us.

People sometimes have misconceptions about business deals that go bad. They think deals like these involve only numbers on a balance sheet. But there’s a very human side, too. It’s never easy to look your employees in the eye and lay them off. And when your long-established business teeters on the brink, it can feel like watching a loved one fight for their life. When Universal called us, it was clear that this case was personal to them. Thus, it became personal to us.

Breaking Down the Details

The core facts of the case were simple: Universal had a written contract with BriteTech to service the signs in the restaurant chain’s stores. In fact, BriteTech never would have had the deal with the chain in the first place were it not for Universal’s contacts within the restaurant industry.

For their part, BriteTech claimed that the breakup of the deal with the chain wasn’t their fault. The chain made the call, they said, and there was nothing they could do about it.

We went to the restaurant chain’s headquarters and deposed a company representative. It was a bit of a risky move: we didn’t know what he would say, so we had to be well-prepared and flexible enough to take our questioning in a number of possible directions.

When we confronted him with information that the problems in the testing were BriteTech’s fault, not Universal’s, he was quite surprised. We knew then that the restaurant chain truly didn’t know about the game BriteTech was playing. That deposition was critically important to our case and led to Universal receiving a multi-million dollar judgment.

Not the Wild West Anymore

Some people will tell you that what BriteTech did was just business. To succeed in business, they’ll say, you have to fight hard, and sometimes a bit dirty.

But the truth is this: if what BriteTech did was right, then we were headed back to the Wild West, where the whims of individuals were more important than the law. We don’t believe that’s true. Fortunately for Universal, the jury didn’t either.

After the litigation, Universal was able to build up its business, hire more employees, and support its growing community and industry. We’re glad to have played a part in helping right this wrong—and in keeping business law from returning to the wild frontier.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

 

Civil Litigation for Healing and Closure

The clients we work with have been dealt catastrophic losses, and each client is affected deeply. They each face the tragedy in their own way, trying to make sense of what happened and to begin to heal. The civil justice system is best set up to provide money to compensate someone’s loss, but we’ve found that winning a case for our clients isn’t just about compensation. It’s about healing, and closure, and moving on. And how that happens will vary from client to client.

Some clients need to face the wrongdoer. Others want an explanation—how, why did this occur? Most just want everything back to normal. To achieve this requires attorneys with both a strong legal and emotional skill set.

Asking the right questions

When we first meet clients, our goal is to develop a personal connection with them, not just gather the facts of the case. We seek to peel away the layers to determine what is important to the client—financially, physically, emotionally—to make sure we have a true understanding of the case and the people involved.

We do this by listening carefully. We start by asking a client what their goals are. Often we hear general responses like “I want answers.” We then probe deeper, listening for the real issues.

In a medical malpractice wrongful death case, for example, where a family member has died tragically, we often find our client feels tremendous guilt. They feel they are somehow responsible for what happened. Perhaps if they’d only sought another opinion or asked different or more questions, they think, their loved one would still be alive. In a case like this, one of our goals—both during our meetings, and at trial—is to reassure the family¬ that they did nothing wrong.

We also listen very carefully in these types of cases to understand family dynamics. When someone is seriously injured or killed, it’s important to delve into their relationships with other family members and how they lived their life. That helps us plan tactically how we approach issues at trial. It lets us paint a complete picture of what the victim and their family have lost.

Solid relationships

Our decades of experience have taught us that solid relationships throughout the civil justice system are also critical in achieving successful outcomes for our clients. From judges to co-counsel to opposing counsel to potential clients, we make sure everyone knows that it’s our ultimate goal to reach the best result for our client in the most efficient manner possible.

As civil litigation attorneys, it’s our job to assess what it will take to get to the desired goal, work toward that goal, and gain the respect of our peers and clients along the way. That makes each and every subsequent case that much easier to handle.

Many people think civil litigation attorneys are like two boxers in a ring slugging it out. While knock-down battles are sometimes necessary, when possible we prefer to work things out and avoid unnecessary battle. It’s simply better for our clients.

We don’t needlessly argue over minor legal points, like petty discovery disputes, if it won’t ultimately serve our client. Choosing the right battles builds credibility with the court and opposing counsel, and it avoids tying up a case and prolonging its resolution—all to the benefit of our clients.

Resolve

Just because we understand the art of compromise doesn’t mean we won’t fight for our client with all we’ve got. Knowing when to take a stand is an important aspect of successful civil litigation. We dig in when we need to and are exceptionally tenacious when we feel our client has been wronged.

Recently, our office received a referral from an out-of-state attorney who had referred several clients to us in the past. He told us he knows that we fight hard but that we’re reasonable, which made him confident we’d be able to achieve a successful outcome for his client.

Passion, care, and excellence

We look for these qualities in every person who joins our team, and we live by these qualities with every case.  When it comes to civil litigation, we are passionate about pursuing justice and righting wrongs. It’s just the way we’re wired.

We care deeply about our clients. We get to know them personally so we can understand and internalize their needs. That lets us best represent their interests and help them find peace and closure.

We pursue every case, every client, with excellence. We bring equal parts communication, creativity, and intelligence to each case, which ensures that everyone involved—clients, judges, juries, opposing counsel—ultimately feels like the best possible outcome has been achieved.

We know that a person or family looks to us for help because they want to heal. They want our help putting the pieces of their shattered life back together. We believe it’s our job—our obligation—as civil litigation attorneys to understand what a successful outcome to the case will be for each individual client, and then use everything we’ve got to achieve that outcome.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.