Communication Skills

Ladies and Gentlemen! Watch Your Language at Trial

By | May.12.15 | Communicating, Daily Dispatch, Law Practice, Skills

It happens. You end up with a jury that is all one gender. That was the case in the trial of George Zimmerman, accused of second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. Six women sat on the jury, and the prosecutor misspoke, addressing them, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury.”

What’s the issue here?

If, as an advocate, your habit is to say “ladies and gentlemen of the jury, ” you may sometimes be wrong. Imagine your jury of six burly, macho-men being addressed as “ladies.” I suggest you drop the phrase in favor of the more neutral “members of the jury.”

You will never be wrong, guaranteed. Whether your listeners in the jury box are all men, all women or a mix, they are all members of the jury.

And That’s Not All

I have a second, more substantive complaint about the phrase. “Ladies and gentleman of the jury” is old-fashioned, and it is not conversational. Every trial skills program stresses that as an advocate you should talk like a real person, not like a lawyer. Do real people in conversation use the label “ladies” anymore? Personally, I never hear it.

For example, I’ve never heard a participant in a trial skills program say, “We have three ladies in my breakout section.”

No analyst writes in the legal press about how many ladies now become lawyers, and no one complains about how few ladies make partner at AmLaw 100 firms.

No commentators referred to “the jury of six ladies” in the Zimmerman trial.

Author Cheryl Sandberg did not title her book “Lean In: Ladies, Work, and the Will to Lead.”

Back in the 1970s, a feminist organization poked fun at the opposition by creating a spoof protest group. At rallies for the Equal Rights Amendment, they carried signs that declared, “Ladies Against Women!”

So, ladies and gentleman, I suggest that when addressing your jury, it is time to end the use of the phrase with which I began this sentence.

Caveat: If someday you leave the law and become a circus ringmaster — or circus ringmistress — you can bellow the phrase to your heart’s content: “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, behold our center ring!”

Until you make that career change, give the alternative a try: “Members of the jury.”

Brian K. Johnson is a courtroom communication consultant who teaches persuasion to trial lawyers and public speaking to transactional attorneys. Co-author of  “The Articulate Advocate” and “The Articulate Attorney,” Brian’s international consulting practice takes him to law firms and training programs throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as the U.K. and Europe. His clients include the National Advocacy Center of the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. He tweets @bjohnsonmhunter.

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4 Responses to “Ladies and Gentlemen! Watch Your Language at Trial”

  1. Jordan
    12 May 2015 at 8:22 am #

    Definitely some good advice here. I know of many people who would probably tune out if someone began with the phrase ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury…” Whereas “Members of the jury” sounds more professional and modern. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Louise
    13 May 2015 at 1:22 am #

    Good point you are making here. I didnt really think about it in this context.