What do the Jurors Think of Your Website? Foreman fined $500 for looking
April 2, 2012
Most law firms carefully craft their websites to leave a certain impression with potential clients, the firm’s existing clients, referral sources, employees and potential employees.
Have you ever considered what jurors might think of your litigators and firm after a visit to your website during trial?
Jury consultants lecturing at national conventions confirm what interviews of jurors in trials consistently tell our clients. Most jurors tour your firm’s website and read about you and your colleagues, your work and your firm. And, they do it during voir dire and during trial, despite admonishments from the judge. (More proof: After determining, as he thought, through online research that the defendant in a Hackensack drug case would get a minimum of 10 years if found to have sold 1,500 Ecstasy pills to an undercover officer, a jury foreman refused to convict and the jury deadlocked, the ABA Journal reported in early 2012. Independently, an alternate juror who lived next to another Bergen County judge mentioned her concern about the research and another juror contacted the county prosecutor’s office. A Superior Court judge found the foreman guilty of criminal contempt and fined him $500. He said he nixed potential maximum penalties of six months in jail and a $1,000 for the willful violation because the foreman, a father of three, recently lost his job. However, some significant punishment was needed to deter others from potentially doing the same thing, the judge said, insisting that it isn’t unreasonable to expect jurors to follow instructions about abstaining from Internet research. “This court rejects the notion the American courtroom, with its constraints and controls developed over the centuries, with its methodical and deliberate means of proceeding, is somehow incompatible with or outdated in today’s world of high-speed information on demand,” the judge wrote. “Indeed, the proliferation of electronic information renders the sterilized atmosphere of a courtroom even more important.”)
So your firm’s commitments to the community, pro bono projects, the way you explain and present yourself and how you portray your past successes for people and businesses are being routinely investigated by those sitting in the box.
Defense counsel may want to soften their image of being Goliath’s hired guns. Plaintiff’s counsel may want to position themselves as champions of the David’s of the world. Many personal injury and family law firms explain their involvement in Arrive Alive, domestic violence prevention, scholarship and underage drinking programs on their websites already. They have fan pages on social media sites to humanize them.
Whatever you convey on your site should be consistent with the impression you are trying to make to jurors in the courtroom.