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Litigator Courtroom Demeanor

How many times have you seen a litigator roll his/her eyes as a witness is testifying; wink at a juror; or lean back in the chair (as if it’s going to tip over) and gaze at the ceiling? Lawyers run a high risk of alienating themselves from the jury when they showboat.

I had the good fortune of beginning my career in the criminal courtrooms of Los Angeles. As a novice jury consultant, I learned the nuances of working in a courtroom within the confines of a familial environment. Because judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys interact with each other on a daily basis there is little tolerance for outrageous attorney behavior. Although, that’s not to say that it does happen from time to time.

Unfortunately, the civil courtroom isn’t so civil. It is rare for a civil litigator to get into the courtroom more than a few times a year. As such the unwritten rules of courtroom behavior don’t seem to apply to some litigators.

In our recent post-verdict interviews of a Southern District of New York and Arkansas Superior Court jury panel, the first words out of their mouths were how disgusted they were with particular lawyers that had argued the case. The jurors described the lawyers who were winking at them during witness examinations; sighing at inappropriate times; and laughing at witnesses when no one else was laughing. The respective verdicts didn’t bode well for those lawyers.

The opinions regarding lawyer demeanor aren’t unique to these geographical locations. We constantly receive feedback in this regard from jury panels across the country. So, what are those unwritten rules of courtroom behavior?

  1. Be cautious of rolling your eyes
  2. Never laugh at inappropriate times
  3. Consider the recipient’s reaction when you wink
  4. Remember that a juror’s physical space can be negatively pierced when you stare at them
  5. Never physically mock an opponent in front of a jury

While all of this may seem common sense even experienced litigators can forget these principles. You can be an effective advocate without displaying inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. Remember that when the jurors walk into the courtroom they view the courtroom as an alien environment in which everything and everyone is under scrutiny.

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