Should I educate the jury concerning all the issues involved in my client’s complex personal injury case? The correct answer is it depends. Personal injury trials often involve specialized medical issues that a vast majority of jurors simply don’t understand. However, you should only spend time teaching your jury if you need to change how the jurors understand the issues in order to win. Every juror has their own understanding of the issues involved in a case. And its also true that their understanding and assumptions may be completely wrong, oversimplified or misinformed. But for one of the parties in a trial, these misguided assumptions work in their favor and make a juror receptive to their respective case. Just remember, a lawyer is not a professor, and teaching doesn’t always help you win trials. Every second you spend time trying to educate a jury is one less second you will have to persuade the jury on the important themes and evidence in your case. The fact is lawyers do not have enough time at trial to give jurors a complete education on any topic, so they must accept the fact that jurors will always be somewhat confused and ignorant about certain issues. A successful lawyer must accept the reality that he/she cannot or should not try to educate the jury in every case.
The choices at the outset of trial are threefold: Do I want to keep or get rid of the jurors who are informed about the issues that will be present during this trial (do they have training and experience on the issues)? What will the expectations of my uninformed jurors be? And do I need to change these expectations by educating the jury, or leave these expectations alone if those assumptions pre-dispose the jurors to be receptive to my client’s case.
Clearly the best way to learn about the baseline expectations and assumptions of the uninformed jury pool is to use a focus group. However, if you cannot afford a formal focus group you can informally focus group such expectations by talking with people you know in all walks of life. This is your opportunity to learn what most of your jurors will assume about your case, and whether these assumptions are good or bad for your case. Don’t educate them ! Just ask them what they think without correction. As a lawyer, you need to know before trial whether these assumptions will be helpful or harmful, and whether you need to change their minds or overcome expectations.
It is only when you have a sense of what most people assume about the issues in your case can you decide whether or not to educate your jurors or let their expectations work for you.