Persuading Juries: The Heart vs The Head

I received an interesting response to my blog post, “Three Comments About Losing a Trial.” Tony F. Graf, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, American Samoa, sent me a note about the challenges he has persuading juries in American Samoa. I want to share his comments with you to make a point:

Jury trials take on a new light as Samoan courts are bilingual, meaning every word is translated from English to Samoan. This is especially difficult on a cross-examination or closing where the flow of your closing or play on words can literally be lost in translation.

However, one of the many lessons I have learned as a result is removing legalese from my closing statements and making every sentence I speak count. No matter how witty I think I am, no play on words ever comes through from English to Samoan. It has taught me how to be concise and simplify my message.

The second lesson is learning how to communicate with a jury even though we share no common background. I am not Samoan and I know that my juries look at me in a different light as it is no secret that I come from a different cultural background. However, I have learned how to transcend the cultural gap by being passionate in my argument. Even though my jury may not understand every word that comes out of my mouth before it is translated, they can feel my passion as I talk to them as if they understood every word.

This has changed my experience conducting jury trials. I have been fortunate to conduct eleven jury trials since coming to Samoa and I can say without a doubt, I am a better attorney after my experience in Samoa.

Mr. Graf’s experience demonstrates that ours is not a profession of big words and clever turns of phrases. Our goal is persuasion. Three powerful tools the Mr. Graf highlights are:

  • clarity of thought,
  • precision of expression, and
  • the flame of passion for our clients.

Fancy presentation software, and showy displays are not where we win our cases. We win when we tell a compelling story that touches the jury in its heart. The heart, not the head, always decides.

Thank you Mr. Graf.

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