(In last week’s post on winning high profile criminal trials (part II), I discussed the importance of thinking outside the box and creating an atmosphere in the courtroom wherein the government is fighting to keep up with the defense lawyer instead of the other way around: fighting the safe, conservative fight in a high profile case will result in a safe, conservative loss.)
A Defense Lawyer in a High Profile Criminal Trial Must Be Quick-Witted and Quick-Thinking
A sense of humor and ability to think on one’s feet are crucial hallmarks for any top criminal defense attorney. Any of the best New York criminal trial lawyers I have known have had one thing in common: incredible senses of humor and ability to think quickly – and oftentimes hilariously – on their feet. And there’s a good reason for this: when you’re defending a very difficult case with a tremendous amount of evidence against your client, the jury is ready to convict before the opening statements are completed. The default position at the start of the case oftentimes includes a bored jury, disgusted with your client and just biding its time until they can convict and go home to their lives. So what can a defense lawyer do to stop that runaway train to disaster? Entertain the jury. Connect with the jury. Make the jury laugh. It’s like anything else in life: make the jury like you enough that they’re willing to listen to what you have to say, willing to give you – and your client – the benefit of the doubt. And there’s not much competition in the humor or likability department when going up against a prosecutor: first, prosecutors are by their definition required to play it much straighter than a defense lawyer can as they are representatives of the government; second, prosecutors are notoriously stiff and less entertaining than defense lawyers (though I have experienced some very rare exceptions). Bottom line: if your lawyer can’t entertain you, the client, he’s certainly not going to have the presence during a high profile criminal trial to cause the jurors to follow him over the mountain to an acquittal.