Heartbreaking Secrets, Jury Selection, the Tao and Voir Dire

Anne Reed wrote yesterday about What They’ll Never Tell You:

Good lawyers know how much you can learn about jurors if you ask the right questions in voir dire. Really good lawyers know how much you’ll never learn, no matter how perfect your questions are. Often — maybe always — the experiences that most shape our personalities and attitudes are our secrets.

“We all carry a secret that would break your heart if you just knew what it was,” Frank Warren tells Guy Kawasaki in an interview on Kawasaki’s blog today. Over 150,000 people have sent Frank Warren their secrets, on anonymous handmade postcards. He gets 1,000 a week, and each Sunday he posts 20 of them at www.PostSecret.com. . . .

Yesterday I wrote about the first chapter of Lao Tse’s Tao Te Ching, which includes these lines:

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

In jury selection, the heartbreaking secrets the jurors carry are the mystery. The things they make the jurors do and say are the manifestations. In jury selection, if you desire to hear the secrets — that is, if you are curious, if you ask questions — you will never get to them. If you are free from desire, you might realize the mystery.

I have a bit (200+ hours?) of training in the psychodramatic method from the National Psychodrama Training Center. I sometimes use techniques from the method to direct forensic reenactments of important events in criminal cases.

Psychodrama training is an object lesson in heartbreaking secrets. Not only do we all have such secrets, but on some level we are all connected in a web of secrets. If, without any ulterior motive, you tell a group of otherwise-normal people your secret, most of them will be touched enough to share similar secrets of their own. (I highly recommend psychodrama workshops, by the way, for learning about yourself and your fellow humans and coincidentally becoming a better trial lawyer. Trust me, take a leap of faith, go. You’ll thank me.)

What’s the application to jury selection? It is true that good lawyers know how much you can learn about jurors if you ask the right questions and that really good lawyers know how much you’ll never learn, no matter how perfect your questions are. Great lawyers, I believe, know that you can often learn more by not asking questions. Sometimes you have to show the jurors yours — reveal your own secrets — to have even a chance that they’ll show you theirs.

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About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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2 Responses to Heartbreaking Secrets, Jury Selection, the Tao and Voir Dire

  1. shg says:

    Man, you are on a serious role here. So many posts, I can barely keep up.

  2. David Tarrell says:

    Excellent post. I second your recommendation on psychodrama and found it to be something that’s difficult to describe but that must be experienced. When i tell people about it, they tend to give me a strange look that doesn’t improve the more I try to describe it. But I’ve taken friends to experience it and they now understand what I was excited about. Perhaps I was focused on the manifestations and not the mystery by trying to describe something that must be felt. I guess talking about psychodrama is a little like what Anna Devere Smith says about trying to talk about acting. She says talking about acting is like thinking about swimming. With psychodrama and with acting, you have to jump in to truly experience the mystery and the magic.

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