I attended the January13, 2009 meeting of the Houston Chapter of the American Inns of Courts. The topic of this meeting focused on themes and their roles in trials. Panelists included Judge Randy Wilson, Judge Reece Rondon, Judge Dion Ramos, Judge Jaclanel McFarland, Ellen Finley (with Jury Focus), Jeff Nobles (an appellate specialist) and myself. How themes affected the outcomes of trials and appeals was the major topic discussed throughout the night. In the end, the various perspectives (from the judges’ view, the practitioners’ view and the jury consultant view) of the panelists were consistent on the impact of the themes. Themes are a must if a lawyer hopes to succeed on behalf of his or her client.
The first thing everyone agreed on was that a lawyer without a theme, really did have a theme that pervaded their entire case — unpreparedness. If a lawyer was without a theme, that lawyer typically was not prepared in most aspects of his or her presentation of their client’s case. For these lawyers, their jury selection, opening statement, presentation of evidence, cross examination and closing argument are generally disjointed and lacked focus. The judges were quick to point out that after trial, their interview with the jurors in their cases, who observed these unorganized lawyers, were usually quick to criticize the unprepared attorneys.
On the other hand, all of the panelists agreed a theme is often the most important thread woven throughout a trial (and often an appeal) that helps deliver the message the lawyers hope will carry their side to victory. Themes that touch on the moral or social righteousness of our side of the case can often engage the jury to decide the case in favor of the right side of a lawsuit. If the case has an issue that can effect the lives of not only our clients, but also the lives of others in our society, then jurors will rightfully feel the urge to closely examine how they respond to the jury questions submitted by the judge. And if there is an ability to hold the defendant accountable, and create change that will benefit our community, they are more likely to ignore much of the special interest rhetoric and return a true and complete verdict in favor of the plaintiff.