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YouLaw: Show and Tell in the Courtroom

By Gerry Oginski | Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Watch the Video

TechnoScore: 1.0
1 = Lowest Possible Score; 5 = Highest Possible Score

Think you know your way around a courtroom? Jeff Roberts of the Roberts Law Firm will personally show you in his video, Jeff Roberts — Skilled Trial Attorney in Newport Beach, CA.

You may recognize the judge's chair, the witness chair, and the jury box. It's almost as if a viewer has never watched any TV ... in their life. Seriously. I hope Roberts is not really like this in front of a jury.

Here's my question: If a potential client is looking for a trial attorney online, is a tour in and around the courtroom going to convince them to pick up the phone and call you? Don't you think the viewer expects that you know where everyone is positioned in the courtroom?

"If I'm giving opening or closing statements, I will use the podium," says attorney Jeff Roberts, standing in front of, and pointing to the podium. "Myself, I am a trial attorney, and this is where I work when I'm on trial," says Roberts, pointing to the jury box. This video seems directed to the Kindergarten through second grade demographic.

What information does this video give to a potential client, and how does this "show and tell" of a courtroom distinguish yourself as a more knowledgeable trial lawyer from any other advocate in your town? Don't we all know where counsel sits? Don't we all know where the judge sits? Doesn't everyone know where the witness sits? Even if the viewer doesn't know these basic facts, ask yourself whether this information does anything to show you're the expert in the courtroom. Unfortunately, this video misses the mark by a huge margin.

Practice Tip: How to Use a Courtroom as a Prop

If you're going to use the courtroom as a prop, how about reading from some trial testimony you've recently taken? How about acting out a few lines of cross-examination in a trial you handled? Give the viewer the "set-up" of the facts of the case, and bring them directly to the point where you're now questioning the witness on the key issue in the case. Hammer home 15-30 seconds of your masterful cross-examination technique. Use this to show how you're different. Don't say "here's my chair, here's the wall, here's the door."

Not many courts would allow a lawyer to videotape within a real courtroom. It certainly would never happen in New York. If you've got the prop, use it effectively and creatively. Think outside the box, and more importantly, ask yourself what a potential client would want to know while they're on trial with you.

Here's a suggestion: When your client turns to ask you a question during the trial, and you explain to him what the judge is doing, why not put that explanation in your video? "What does it mean when a lawyer objects, and the judge says 'objection sustained'?" "What does it mean when the judge asks if you want to voir dire the witness?" "What does it mean if the jury asks for a read back of testimony?" If you are a trial lawyer and answer those commonly asked questions in your video, more likely than not, viewers will call you and not your competitor.

Practice Tip: Introduce Yourself

The camera is much too far away from attorney Roberts and the lighting is poor. I had to squint to see if it was really him talking. The audio is not that much better. There's no music, which is fine.

What bothers me the most, however, is that the attorney does not introduce himself. Yes, there's a title graphic at the bottom of the screen saying who he is. However, if your intention is to have viewers get to know you and form a bond with you while watching your videos, they won't bother to connect with you if you don't first (metaphorically) stick your hand out and say "Hi, I'm Joe the Lawyer, a trial lawyer from Smallville."

Welcome your viewer. Thank them for a moment of their time. Remember, their time is valuable too. When I produce my own video clips, I like to thank viewers for joining me in my office for a few minutes of their time. It only takes an extra few seconds, and in my opinion, makes the viewer feel like I just thanked them personally. That's the personal bond you want to try and establish.

From a performance standpoint, I will assume that this was Roberts' first attempt at video, and give him the benefit of the doubt about his lackluster performance. A bit more energy and enthusiasm would certainly have juiced up this droll 1:29 minute clip.

Every newbie has some trepidation when trying their first case, and even creating their first video. Looking back at my first video clip, I was just as stilted and formal. Only after creating my 10th and even 20th video clip, did I learn to just loosen up and be myself.

Practice Tip: Don't Promote Your Producer

The beginning of the video prominently features the production company. Another bad move for the lawyer. In my previous YouLaw video reviews I have repeatedly pointed out that there is absolutely no reason to share the spotlight with the production company you use to create your video. You should be the only one in the spotlight. If they want free advertising, let them do it with a testimonial from you, or have a small section of text after your text box. It distracts the viewer from looking for your contact information during your introduction.

Cautionary Video Tip

When creating your video, make sure you do not run afoul of your state's ethics rules. Importantly, you do not want to create the appearance of, or intend to create an attorney-client relationship with your video. Nor do you want to have a potential client rely solely on your video clip to determine what legal action (or inaction) they should take in their own matter. So far, the attorney videos I've seen (and I've viewed hundreds) have done well in this respect. Just remember, it is you who is responsible for the content in your video, not your producer. Do not let a marketing rep or sales rep convince you to add something to your video when you know it is impermissible.

The Back Bench

Certified Family Law Specialist and online video producer Kelly Chang Rickert says: "Not sure why he is giving an elementary lesson in an empty courthouse, but it isn't effective. It almost assumes his clients are all idiots. Jeff also stutters over some of the lines in his script — does not come across as confident."

TechnoLawyer publisher and online video producer Neil Squillante says: "Thank you for the courtroom tour, but what about my case? Roberts looks uncomfortable plus people don't hire lawyers based on their knowledge of a courtroom's layout. Case dismissed for insufficient evidence."

About YouLaw

YouTube offers law firms a free advertising platform with tens of millions of potential clients. But a poor video can hurt more than help. In this column, lawyer and online video expert Gerry Oginski reviews and rates the latest law firm videos. A panel of fellow experts (The Back Bench) add to Gerry's reviews with pithy remarks. We link to each new YouLaw column and all other noteworthy law firm marketing articles in our weekly BlawgWorld newsletter, which is free. Please subscribe now.

About Gerry Oginski

New York trial lawyer Gerry Oginski has created more than 150 informational online videos for his medical malpractice and personal injury practice. Realizing that most video producers don't have a deep understanding of the practice of law and what potential clients look for, Gerry launched The Lawyers' Video Studio, which provides free tutorials and video production services. If you need help producing a video, please contact Gerry now.

Contact Gerry:
T: (516) 487-8207

Topics: Law Firm Marketing/Publications/Web Sites | Videos | YouLaw
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