Everyone talks about witness credibility. We learn about it in school during trial advocacy class. We hear about it during just about every closing argument. We have jury instructions describing how the jury should weigh it.
And while witness credibility is key in trial, there’s something that’s perhaps just as important…
As lawyers we are extensions of our clients in the eyes of the jury. The old adage of tell me who you hang with and I’ll tell you who you are certainly applies here. If the jury believes that you are a truth teller, it is more likely to believe that your client is a truth teller. If the jury believes that your client is a truth teller, it is more likely to believe that he or she is on the right side of the dispute that is being tried before them. Because of this it is very important that you build up your credibility in front of the jury.
There are three easy ways to bring up your credibility before the jury,
Say What You Mean And Do What You Say
During trial you should say what you mean and do what you say. This concept extends beyond the mere presentation of the evidence. Take for example jury selection. If you tell the jury that you’ll be speaking for 45 minutes make sure that when the timer hits 45 minutes you are done, regardless of whether the judge would give you more time or not. If you tell a witness you have but one question for him or her make sure that you ask one question and sit down. If you told the jury that you are not contesting a particular fact don’t then ask questions that suggest that you are contesting a particular fact. If you make it a point to say what you mean and do what you say your credibility will get a boost before the jury.
Don’t Do Anything Shady
Sometimes people try to get away with shady stuff in trial. Things like impeaching with a portion of a statement that is taken out of contest should be avoided. While some lawyers may think that this is clever, a good opponent will catch you and make you pay by destroying your credibility in front of the jury. Avoid this at all costs.
Tell A Detailed Story And Prove It Up
When telling your trial story during opening statement make sure to give a good amount of detail. Then follow it up with the proof at trial. Make sure to prove up as many of those details as you can during the trial. If you said the incident happened at 7pm make sure to elicit that from a witness. If you said that three witnesses saw what happened make sure to elicit that. If you said that your client broke his leg in three places make sure to elicit that. Bring into evidence as many of the details as you can from your detailed opening statement story. These details are the building blocks of your credibility before the jury.