The importance of attorney credibility

Steve Wood, Ph.D.

Attorney credibility has been a topic of interest in academia and the legal community for quite some time. More importantly, attorney credibility has been an area of interest to attorneys themselves. Based on the literature and personal discussions with many trial attorneys, there appear to be two camps when it comes to this topic. The first camp often states, “Of course attorney credibility matters,” while the second camp often espouses sentiments such as, “What does the attorney’s credibility have to do with the case? The facts are the facts.” There does not appear to be much middle ground—it is an all or nothing proposition. However, the answer to the question, “Does an attorney’s credibility matter in the courtroom?” may not be that straightforward. The literature is replete with recommendations on how attorneys can become more persuasive in the courtroom; however, there are only a few scientific studies related to civil litigation that examine whether the perceived characteristics of attorneys are related to courtroom outcomes. Moreover, there has been little discussion about the things that jurors have stated that attorneys should not do in the courtroom. 

In this summary of a lengthier article on this topic, we define what attorney credibility is and what it is not and examine how attorney credibility influences verdict outcomes:

          §  Attorney credibility comprises two components: expertise and trustworthiness.

   §  Attorney credibility is a separate construct from skill, evidence strength, and likability.

   §  Attorney credibility influences courtroom verdicts, but the effect varies by attorney. 

o  A credible defense attorney can place the onus on a plaintiff attorney to prove that he or she is credible. If the plaintiff attorney cannot do this, the likelihood of a liability verdict significantly decreases.

o  A credible plaintiff attorney is more successful regarding causation verdicts and compensatory damage award amounts than a non-credible plaintiff attorney. The credibility of the defense attorney does not have a significant influence on these courtroom outcomes.

   §  Attorney credibility influences expert witness credibility ratings.

o  Plaintiff expert witnesses receive higher credibility ratings when the plaintiff attorney is credible versus non-credible. 

o  Defense expert witnesses receive higher credibility ratings when the defense attorney is credible versus non-credible. 

  §  Jurors siding with the defense, pre- and post-deliberation, indicate that they believe the defense attorney is more credible than the plaintiff attorney. 

  §  Jurors siding with the plaintiff, pre- and post-deliberation, indicate that they believe the plaintiff attorney is more credible than the   defense attorney. 

  §  Jurors have indicated that there are six elements that decrease an attorney’s credibility

o   Lack of proof

o   Lack of trustworthiness

o   Lack of humility

o   Not persuasive

o   Lack of remorse/sympathy

o   Unprepared

  §  To assess credibility, attorneys need to seek out juror feedback through mock trials, focus groups, and/or post-trial interviews. 

For more detail on the topic of attorney credibility and the research that supports these findings, please review our article: 

 ·         The Value of Hiring a “Credible” Attorney

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