Jury Selection: Simple Rule 14: The Atticus Finch Rule

Remember the scene near the end of To Kill a Mocking Bird in which Atticus Finch, having lost the case, wearily packs up his things to leave the courtroom? As he’s preparing to leave, the blacks in the gallery stand up for him; Reverend Sykes tells Scout, “Miss Jean Louise? Miss Jean Louise, stand up! Your father’s passin'”.

Why did they stand up for Atticus Finch? Because he was an upright, honest man fighting for what he—and they—knew was right.

Simple Rule 14: The Atticus Finch Rule:

Be the lawyer they want to stand up for.

Simple, right? Not easy, in some cases maybe not even possible, but simple. Atticus Finch acted with courtesy and dignity. He didn’t lie, cheat, or rant.

Even in the worst case for the defense, there are human beings on the other side. The jury panel is watching us and listening; they see how we behave toward the judge, witnesses, court staff, prosecutors, and most particularly them. How we treat other people reflects on us and on our clients.

This doesn’t mean we have to be meek. Sometimes in the course of battle feelings get bruised; the jurors know that. They will forgive us our zealous advocacy, but they won’t forgive us our rudeness.

Nor will they forgive us if they catch us lying, or cheating, or pretending to be something we aren’t. And since they can’t punish us except through our clients, that is what they will do.

So don’t be rude. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t pretend to be something you aren’t (unless you’re a rude lying cheater—then pretend). Say “ma’am” and “sir” and “please” and “thank you”, and listen when someone else is speaking. At least until the jury has given you permission to do otherwise, treat everyone in the courtroom with courtesy and dignity.

Be the lawyer they want to stand up for.

1 Comment

  1. Mark, You are DEFINITELY a lawyer I stand up for! I already thought that, but after reading your quote from my favorite book, I knew why!

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