Sometimes, usually after studying property for an extended time, I think to myself, “does this really need to be so complicated?” Of course, after I’ve studied long enough, I start to think concepts like “reciprocal negative servitude” are easy.
Other times, usually while the jury is deliberating, I think “it’s so simple; We’re obviously going to win.” But when the jury returns with an acquittal, I think what they’re really saying is, “you didn’t make it simple enough.”
Put simply, our training makes us comfortable with complication. That’s why we unintentionally make things more complicated. We use terms of art that are inscrutable to the average listener. We like words like “inscrutable” instead of words like “obvious.” Other professionals delve into similarly complex and esoteric disciplines, and give lectures on the subject to other experts in the field. Lawyers are probably the only professionals expected to give lectures to an audience consisting of one expert whose opinions are legally binding, and twelve people who saw something like this on TV before.
So far, we haven’t had much luck with this balancing act. My two supervisors are relatively new lawyers. They are well-respected by all of their colleagues in our office, by the judge, and by opposing counsel. Yet we keep losing jury trials. I may be naive, but I think the solution is obvious: We need to make our case simple.
The defense doesn’t have the same problem. Complication and confusion are just two of the myriad weapons in their arsenal. I doubt they would agree, but it seems like distractions, irrelevancies, and legal terminology are all fuel for their signal fire: “Yeah, the prosecution told a nice story, but they didn’t prove it—beyond a reasonable doubt!”
I will be taking my first cases to jury trial soon. I plan to stake my entire case on one central thesis—simplicity. I will use clear, natural language. I will present the evidence quickly and directly. I will keep my examinations short and to the point. My statements will not include rhetoric or jargon. All I will ask of the jury is that they pay attention and do what’s right.
Our world is infinitely complicated, but beneath all complexity there are simple, universal truths. My job is to cut through the clutter and present the jury with the essential question: Was it right, or was it wrong? I only hope that the answer is always as clear as I can make it.