March 2015 Bar Bulletin
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March 2015 Bar Bulletin

The Turning Point

By Daniel W. Dugan


Even when I'm at the movies, I'm thinking about ways for you to win trials. For instance, the movie "Sliding Doors" has a very interesting premise that can be used to select and persuade jurors. It is a graphic example of the story-telling feature that I teach about called the turning point.

"Sliding Doors" (which you should see) shows how the life of a woman - portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow - would have turned out if: (1) she had made it on to her subway train; or (2) if she missed the subway train because the doors slid shut. The movie juxtaposes two different lives, showing what transpired in each from this one, seemingly insignificant event. This is similar to what you can do with jurors as you lead them through your case.

How Does the Turning Point Work in Voir Dire?

It is common during voir dire to let the jury know how long the trial will last. If the length of the trial is more than, say, one day, you typically hear some sort of groan from the panel. Think about it: If someone came up to you and said, "We're sending you to the Bahamas, all expenses paid, for two weeks and you are leaving right now, with no chance to go home and make arrangements," you might initially groan at that offer.

It is the involuntariness and the immediate onset that make jury duty seem like a dramatic, life-changing event. It is not the task of being a juror that is hard. It is the fact that a change in routine is happening without warning or sympathy or consideration.

All that prospective jurors hear is, "We're going to take you out of your life for two weeks and you have no say in the matter." They hear the judge describe this as their civic duty, a privilege, how fascinating the contract dispute will be to hear, and how, at the end, they will be glad they did this, blah blah blah.

None of that competes with the real, impactful thoughts racing through jurors' minds, like, "What about work? What about child care? What about my concert tickets? What about picking up the cleaning? What about doing the medications for mom over my lunch? What about the repair guy I'm supposed to meet tomorrow between 9 and 2?" None of your "thanking them for their time" erases the myriad of escape options they begin to create so they can get back to their routines.

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