Universal Truths Vs. Stereotypes: Dealing with Ours and Their at Trial
(Originally published for the Southern Trial Lawyers Association Newsletter)
By Christopher Marlowe, The Haggard Law Firm
We are all prejudiced, shaped by our interactions with others from birth. Some experiences are positive, others insulting. Each, to varying degrees, necessarily changes our perception of others. This writing is premised on the understanding that we are all susceptible to feelings and beliefs that are not always fair or rational. It is the recognition of this narrow aspect of the human condition that cautions the trial attorney to acknowledge Universal Truths where they exist, and the Stereotypes that often accompany them.
Having chosen a profession that revolves largely upon judging the behavior and motivations of others, identifying and appreciating our prejudice is a critical component of successfully working within the legal system. For trial lawyers, the process of moving from an abstract grievance to a concrete solution for our clients begins in earnest with jury selection.
A jury of our peers seems like a simple enough concept. However, in every jurisdiction with which I am familiar, the peer group is defined only by one commonality: an arbitrarily drawn geographic boundary. The remainder of that which defines your prospective panel is a mystery. Race, religion, gender, sexual identity and political beliefs all thrive independently behind each of the twenty or thirty faces staring back at you as you begin the process of selecting who, exactly, will stand in judgment of the situation that forced this community of peers to miss work and doctor appointments to perform their civic duty.