Six Essential Questions
Jurors Want Answered

From jurors' perspectives, lawyers must respond to six core questions about each case: Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why However, the lawyer's idea of how these questions should be answered is sometimes much different than what jurors expect to hear.

Nothing could seem more obvious than "who" is involved in a case, yet jurors are frequently at a loss to understand how the key parties are connected to each other. What is easy for lawyers to grasp (after months of trial preparation) is often obscure to jurors who have relatively little time to absorb case concepts. Charts that illustrate, not just the flow of communication or authority from one party to the other, but which depict the relationships between the parties, can work wonders to clarify the case. A confused juror is often an unsympathetic juror.

The core of the case, the "what happened," seems straightforward enough. But in order to be most effective, often "what happened" needs to include what should have or could have happened (plaintiff position) or what was considered and ruled out for good reason (defense position).

For example, in a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff's attorney claims the doctor failed to accurately diagnose and therefore properly treat the plaintiff's condition. Instead of simply presenting the doctor's failure to order a diagnostic test as the critical factor, the plaintiffs attorney might also present to the jury other diagnostic tests, procedures, and protocols the doctor could have used at each step of treatment to help the plaintiff but chose not to. From the defense side, simply stating that the defendant "met the standard of care" is far less persuasive than taking the time to explain in detail what must be done to reach that standard and how the doctor exceeded it.

"When" is another one of those questions that seems clear to lawyers, yet can be confusing to jurors. "When" is always best answered by a graphic display of events as they occurred over time. Jurors are most familiar with "seeing" time on a horizontal continuum from past to present. Lawyers, however, are usually used to "seeing" time as a series of dates on a vertical list, with dates of relevant events on the left, and descriptions of events on the right. This is not a familiar configuration for most jurors. A vertical display does not imply movement through time, as does a horizontal representation. Jurors can easily understand even the most complex time line if the graphic artist depicts it horizontally and uses symbols and icons representing key events and important dates.

A time line set forth in this manner helps tell the "story" of the case to the jurors, with a clear beginning and end. This is particularly useful in cases where the story may not at first glance appear to be dramatic, (e.g., most business cases). Anything the attorney can do to sequence the case story is appreciated by the jury and the time line can be the most dramatic storytelling tool at an attorney's disposal.

"Where" is at issue when "where" matters to the case: the shopping center in an eminent domain case, the house involved in an insurance fraud, the stretch of highway crucial to an accident.

Once again, "where" is best shown visually. If crucial to the "what" or "how," it should be shown in more ways than one (photos, video) so the jurors can better visualize the events that occurred at the location.

Motive is critical to jurors. Too often, lawyers consider it obvious or irrelevant, or they simply fail to develop motive sufficiently. It should be defined early, incorporated into the case theme, and repeated unambiguously throughout testimony and evidence. There is no need to search for convoluted or "original" motives: betrayal, greed, promises broken, for example, work well. They are universal, easy to understand, and speak to the jurors' common sense.

Reconstruction of the event - be it an accident, a breach of contract, a failed procedure or product - is a source of juror concern. Jurors are determined to figure out what happened regardless of the legal definition of liability. Lawyers rarely appreciate the degree to which jurors require clarity in this regard, and as a result, often do not answer "how" in a way that satisfies them. Jurors will generally favor the attorney whose version of "how" is clearest and makes the most sense. This clarity is most often achieved with visuals such as graphics, models, and 3-D videos, all of which facilitate the jurors' quest for the truth of "how" it happened.

Jurors feel most comfortable with their decision when they are given enough information to thoroughly understand the case. Providing the who, what, when, where, why, and how of an argument in a way that can be readily understood will increase the chances of success.


Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D. is a Malibu, California- based trial consultant who specializes in trial strategy, witness preparation and focus groups. She is the author of 'A Winning Case" (Prentice Hall) and "Connecting With Your Client" (ABA). She can be reached at

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