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Trial with Fewer Errors

By Jeffrey R. Teeters, Litigation News Immediate Past Editor-in-Chief

 

Trey Cox’s Winning the Jury’s Attention provides a thoughtful, purposeful approach to trial preparation and trial presentation, ranging from “Aristotle’s modes of rhetoric to PowerPoint presentations and other technology.” It weaves practical trial situations together with the psychological realities of persuasion and juror attention spans, making it easy to read and a helpful resource for attorneys at any stage in their practice.
Cox’s description of the genesis of his book may be the best explanation for the book’s value:


I am not a neuroscientist. I am a courtroom lawyer. I help clients explain why they are right. Over the course of trying cases the last 15 years I have discovered, somewhat by accident, that learning more about how people think, receive, and retain information made a big difference in how juries heard and perceived me. When I could not find a book that explained my most useful discoveries about the brain in simple language that could be applied to the courtroom, I decided to write one. We’ll touch on the modern science of psychology, cognitive psychology, and cognitive neuroscience.


Fundamentally, this is a book of practical advice that will help you make and deliver an effective trial presentation step-by-step.


Cox structures the book around seven principles for communicating effectively with a jury. He then dedicates at least one chapter to explaining and illustrating each principle. They are:


  • The Personal Credibility Principle: “Demonstrate competence, accuracy, leadership, and efficiency to gain credibility.”
  • The Signaling Principle: “People learn better when the material is presented with clear outlines and headings.”
  • The Segmentation Principle: “People learn better when information is
    presented in bite-sized chunks.”
  • The Multimedia Principle: “People learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.”
  • The Coherence Principle: “People learn better when extraneous material is excluded.”
  • The Stickiness Principle: “Make your themes and ideas ‘sticky.’”
  • The Jolt Principle: “Periodically jolt your jury so they don’t bolt.”

To honor the first principle, Cox opens the book by establishing credibility for his subsequent techniques and recommendations. Chapters on the “science of the brain as it relates to trial presentations,” the “modern juror,” and the voir dire process present solid support for the merits of the seven principles.


Certainly not every element of these principles and techniques is a unique revelation. Cox’s key contribution rests in his assimilation of them into an overall approach to trial presentation and persuasiveness. For example, his practical tips for the voir dire process, including checklists and time-saving techniques, are excellent tools for newer trial attorneys and helpful reminders for courtroom veterans.


The chapter entitled “Maintaining Credibility Through Cross-Examination” will be particularly helpful to those attorneys who have not practiced long enough to have learned from a sufficient number of their own mistakes. Initially, Cox categorizes three techniques of cross-examination: impeachment, hitchhiking, and limiting. He then analyzes when and why to use those techniques and presents tips for actually pulling them off in a manner the jury will most likely perceive favorably. All of that arises from 11 “truths” that Cox has come to accept about cross-examination over the course of his career. Again, the “why” provides just as much learning as the “how”; the reader now has both a variety of cross-examination skills to develop and an understanding of when—and when not—to employ those skills.


Organization and preparation are Cox’s overall goals for the courtroom. As he describes it, “my approach is to develop a thematic consistency from opening statement through closing such that the opening will tell your jury what to expect, the trial will meet the expectation, and the closing will reinforce your success.” Understandably then, Cox spends a fair amount of time on how to develop a trial theme. At a high level, his mantra for a trial theme is: “memorable, moral, applicable.” Many of us have heard the importance of following a trial theme. This book, however, does more than preach the sermon; it actually helps you formulate a winning theme.


Winning the Jury’s Attention will not teach you rules of evidence, trial objections, or how to draft jury instructions. It will not give you cookie-cutter examination outlines or formulaic opening statements. Rather, it provides a framework around which to mold your particular case’s facts and your legal and personal creativity.


The book is just under 200 pages. That proves to be both long enough not to cut corners and short enough to squeeze in a good read, even in the hectic ramp up toward your next jury trial.


Keywords: trial presentation, voir dire, cross-examination, trial preparation, jury trial


Winning the Jury's Attention (ABA 2011), available at the ABA Web Store or by calling 1-800-285-2221.


 
 
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