One of the most important qualities of a successful trial attorney is the ability to present the client’s case in a manner that enables jurors to adopt the attorney’s arguments as the truth. But doing so requires more than mere persuasion. According to a recent article by prominent trial attorney Paul Luvera, clever and persuasive arguments may in fact be counterintuitive if the attorney is not authentic – not authentic about the weaknesses in his case, and not authentic about his own weaknesses as well.
Authenticity as the Key to Acceptance
Attorney Luvera, who was inducted into the American Trial Attorneys Hall of Fame, refers to the research of Professor Brene Brown at the University of Houston on how relationships are formed, and the role of vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame on people’s ability to relate to others. Professor Brown states that one of the most important keys to a successful relationship is the ability of one individual to relate to another, which is only possible if each party is able to identify with another’s beliefs, values, characteristics, or qualities. But it is impossible to truly accept and identify with another without each party being honest with the other and themselves.
According to Prof. Brown’s research, the average person has the instinctual ability to detect when someone is guarded or is not being honest about himself. When inauthenticity is detected, it leads people away from trusting one another, and so destroys any opportunity for one to relate to another. Prof. Brown argues that people are inauthentic because of their own insecurities about themselves – they are unwilling to clearly expose themselves to others because they are afraid that their imperfections will lead to rejection or pain. That is why Prof. Brown asserts that it takes courage – courage to accept oneself for who he is with all his imperfections. It is only when one can accept himself with all his imperfections that he allows himself to be who he truly is, and so to lower the barriers thereby allowing others to relate to him.
Authenticity and Trial Practice
Prof. Brown’s research is critical to the success of any trial attorney. In a jury trial, the verdict often hinges on the jury’s acceptance of the evidence and arguments presented by the attorneys, which is heavily influenced by the jury’s impression of each trial attorney. As Attorney Luvera notes, the panel of 6 or 12 jurors spend hours, if not days, observing and attending to the language, social cues, and body language of the attorneys arguing before them. If the jury detects that the attorney is guarded, not forthcoming about certain facts, and insecure about the case, the jury will likely form a negative impression of the attorney, failing to relate to him, and so unwilling to accept him.
The solution is for the attorney to be authentic – “A trial lawyer who projects to the jury an unguarded and authentic person coupled with honesty and truthfulness about his case is someone who is trusted,” says Attorney Luvera. And authenticity will require both the attorney and the case to be more vulnerable than they otherwise would be; the attorney will need to be honest about his imperfections as well as the imperfections of the case. As Attorney Luvera warns: “Jurors can be entertained by the illusion of perfection for only so long before they begin to question the performer’s authenticity – and that’s the end of the show.
The lawyer must strike a balance between completely exposing the weaknesses of his client’s case and falsely presenting his case as faultless and foolproof. The lawyer’s ethical obligation is to the client first and foremost, and so must present both himself and the case in the light that would be most favorable to the client. However, the lawyer should not attempt to pass himself or the case for something that is not true – there is no such thing as a perfect lawyer or a perfect case. And jurors are certainly wise enough to see through the false illusion of perfection. A successful trial attorney is one that can be honest in presenting his case, while persuading jurors to accept the case for its strengths and regardless of its weaknesses. The jury doesn’t need a perfect case, but it does need a case and an attorney that it can trust and accept, for both their strengths and their imperfections.