All trial lawyers should avoid overly complex, technical, and boring explanations to a jury. Not only do jurors become confused, bored, and tune you out when you do, but technical jargon strips your arguments of the personal connections necessary to be persuasive. Even if a juror knows what a subdural hematoma is–and many do not–use of technical jargon makes jurors think of impersonal medical charts and x-rays, not the pain and horror of a serious injury and its impact on the victim. One must fight the temptation to talk about intellectual property, post-traumatic stress disorder, and breaches of implied covenant; instead, talk about stealing ideas, depression, or breaking one’s word. Jurors don’t get as angry at corporate defendants who made intentionally fraudulent omissions on their operating statement as they do at companies who lie about their profits and losses on purpose to trick someone. Big words don’t impress your jurors; they allow jurors to put emotional distance between themselves and the case at hand.
If you must use technical words or get into explanations of complex issues, be sure to step back and “translate” what you have said frequently and patiently. If you are forced to read from a dry insurance policy, business contract, vehicle code or legal citation, immediately step back, pause, and tell jurors “what this means is that Mr. Johnson had to maintain the plumbing system in his house for his policy to cover water damage.” Oftentimes you may become comfortable and familiar with technical jargon simply because you have spent time working with expert witnesses and have had the luxury of absorbing complex information, but never lose sight of the fact that jurors do not have this luxury; most jurors lack the ability to understand complex medical, financial, scientific, or technical issues. And even if they understand, simple, everyday language helps your case hit home with jurors.
Even jury consultants and experienced trial attorneys with different perspectives seem to agree that simple, clear language works best in the persuasion of jurors. David Ball tells plaintiff attorneys not only to use simple language in describing injuries but also to touch those parts on their own bodies while discussing them to help jurors personalize those injuries. Gerry Spence and proponents of “psychodrama” advise plaintiff attorneys to imagine what it would be like to be in their clients’ shoes so that they can better understand and communicate their injuries and quality of life to jurors. I wholeheartedly agree with both approaches; one of the most critical ingredients in persuading jurors is to help them to relate to your client and personalize the situation that they are in, and big, impersonal words are a roadblock to personalization.
The same goes for lengthy explanations of dry, complicated issues–they may be necessary, but they bore and confuse jurors, and often distract them from the important ideas and principles jurors should be focused on. While it may be necessary to explain the complex, yawn-inducing details of how a salesperson’s commission is properly calculated, the clauses and exemptions in an insurance policy, or the standards of due diligence in the real estate or construction industry, be sure to step back and “translate” the complexities into simpler terms. More importantly, be sure to step back frequently to provide a clear context and remind jurors why all these details are relevant to your case themes, and to remind them what those broad themes are. Telling jurors why the details are important only once is not enough; reinforcing your themes as often as possible helps jurors to understand your message and to better organize trial.