The Ancient Art of Jury Persuasion

By Neale deGravelles 

From lectures at local CLEs to intensive week-long getaways and seminars that offer the latest techniques of persuasion, litigators spend countless hours perfecting their craft. Books, DVDs and how-to manuals offering supposedly cutting-edge theories in how to reach and move jurors are also wildly popular.

From Reptile to Psychodrama, authors tout the latest scientific or pseudoscientific studies supporting advice on how to pick a jury and get a favorable verdict in today’s environment. Indeed, lawyers’ use of psychological principles in jury selection, jury persuasion, and understanding how juries reach their decisions is now commonplace.

But much of what passes today as the latest and greatest methods of jury persuasion have been around for thousands of years. Ancient Greece used jury trials for both criminal offenses and civil disputes between citizens. While these trials were different in many ways from the jury trial we know here in America, one feature common to both was the right of the litigants to argue their case to the jury. Not only have many ancient jury arguments survived to the present day, but so have the contemporaneous writings of teachers of rhetoric who performed exquisite analyses and critiques from which lessons were drawn and passed on to their students and the public.

When reviewed, these writings demonstrate the point of the article I recently published in the Louisiana Bar Association Journal with Judge John deGravelles — while historical and cultural changes necessarily dictate changes in how to move an audience, many of today’s “secrets” of successful jury persuasion have been around a very long time and, indeed, still have much to teach lawyers today about this ancient and noble art.

Keep reading to find out more about the ancient art of jury persuasion.