I recently sat through voir dire as a panel member in one of the criminal district courts in Dallas County. It’s always good to watch other practitioners go about their art; I always learn a lot (or am reminded of what I already know). To my fellow trial lawyers who read this blog, here are a few reminders:
- Communicate clearly about the legal principles at issue. This is particularly hard in a criminal voir dire when you aren’t allowed to discuss the facts, but make sure your questions are crystal clear about how the law works under various situations. Counsel got tripped up when asking the ultimate “for cause” question, whether each panel member could award the full range of punishment.
- Listen more than you talk. It takes professional maturity to know that it’s not about you or your mastery of the case; it’s about digging out information about your panel members as fast and as thoroughly as possible.
- Ditch the pretense that voir dire is a game show and you are the host. No “I can’t hear you”-s after asking how the whole panel is today. Find a way to be relatable without being insincere.
- Focus on striking those people who are biased against your side. Never ever lose this focus. It’s the only thing that matters. You aren’t trying to impress 72 people; you’re trying to figure out which of those 72 people you can’t live with on your jury for the next two weeks.
- Don’t ask a single question that doesn’t get you to the previous point. Sit down if you’ve asked all you need to ask.