Dr. Noelle Nelson

The Question’s Not the Problem: The Answer May Be

How many times in your youth, were you told by a benevolent, or at the very least, good-hearted, coach or teacher, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” You’ve probably said that very phrase to your children as well. 

And yet, when jurors ask during deliberations to have something explained to them or ask a question that clearly reveals their lack of understanding, lawyers will frequently roll their eyes and mutter about “the decline in average intelligence” or mumble about the impossibility of getting “bright jurors” on the panel.

Similarly, in focus groups, when it’s obvious the mock jurors have completely missed a lawyer’s point, the lawyer will often blame the jurors for their stupidity . . . which drives me absolutely berserk.

Jurors are people who are good at what they do! Whether that’s repairing cars, or managing a convenience store, or cleaning houses. And just like the internationally acclaimed show “Undercover Boss” revealed the inability of most bosses to accomplish the mundane tasks of their employees, I defy any attorney to walk in the shoes of any juror and accomplish their tasks in life, from bus driver to pediatric nurse, with the same level of expertise as said juror.

There are no stupid questions. There are simply different arenas and levels of experience in the world. Run your cases by focus groups whenever you can to ferret out what are the issues critical to your case that jurors are likely to misunderstand or fail to comprehend. 

Then do all that you can, with the aid of visuals whenever possible, to clarify matters for those who will be your “real” jurors. 

There are no stupid questions. But there are some mightily confusing, obfuscating answers.

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