• Jessica Brylo

What To Do (And Not Do) With Short Voir Dire Time

Voir dire time in many places is now limited to 15-30 minutes (if you get attorney-conducted voir dire at all!). Aside from filing motions for extended voir dire, arguing with the judge, asking for more time when your time is about to be up, and many other suggestions for getting more voir dire time, I want to address some ideas of what to do when you are stuck with such a small amount of time.

There are some very good attorneys and consultants who will suggest using scaled questions (those are questions where you have people give answers on a scale of 1-5 or 1-10, etc.) in such situations. They suggest coming up with some questions about tort reform or specifics about your case and go down the line of jurors asking where they fall on the scale.

I would suggest something different, however. I understand the need to get as much information from jurors in such a short amount of time but my fears in using the scaled method are:

  1. Unless you have really tested the questions and reliability of the scales, you may learn absolutely nothing. I often use scaled questions on my intake forms for focus groups and most of the questions asked have no correlation to the juror’s ultimate opinion. Many jurors who say they are in favor of caps, for example, will go way beyond their maximum dollar amount when they hear the facts of the case. Further, you don’t know why the jurors hold such beliefs or how ingrained the beliefs are unless you talk to them.

  2. You give up any chance you have to become likeable and create rapport with the jury. If all you do is go down the line and have jurors shout out numbers at you, the jurors learn nothing about you and you learn very little if anything about them. Jury selection is a time for you to create a bond with the jurors. Jurors are already degraded by being given a number instead of a name, herded like cattle, and told where to sit. You only add to their degredation by having them give numbers instead of answers.

My suggestion is to use whatever little time you have getting jurors talking. If you’re a plaintiff’s attorney, you probably want to focus on tort reform and just get them spouting off about frivolous lawsuits and greedy attorneys. Let them see you listening and thanking them for their answers. They will feel a whole lot better about you if you spend your 15 minutes with them asking questions and facilitating a dialogue than giving scaled answers. That’s not to say that you can’t use one or two scaled questions within the discussion or ask a couple of hand raising questions to find out which jurors to start the conversation with, but the main focus should be on getting to know the jurors as people and them seeing that you have an interest in them.

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