Words are powerful tools. Most district attorneys know the power of words. Take a minute to listen to some of the words they use. Victim, defendant, indictment are just a small example of these powerful words. It begs the question of what should a criminal defense lawyer call his client ?
Recently, I was watching a young lawyer conduct a preliminary hearing. He always referred to his client. No other word was used. First, I must commend him for having a preliminary hearing in the first place. Is there a better word to use than client ?
Take a page out of district attorney’s playbook. Most district attorneys refer to the person charged with a crime as the defendant. The defendant must defend. A defendant cannot rely on his or her constitutional presumption of innocence. Using the word defendant dehumanizes the person on trial. Most trial courts follow suit. How does the defendant plead is one question that is asked.
Instead of using the word client or defendant, call them by their god given name. Call them John or Ms. Jones. Humanize the person. Give them a name. Don’t let them be reduced to the sterile and non feeling word like client or worse the defendant.Judges and jurors need to connect to John Jones. Client is just another word for the defendant. Just look at the power of the word victim. It elevates Jessica Smith to a preferred status. In the domestic violence courts, I routinely hear the court referring to the victim or the district attorneys refer to my victim.
My suggestion is to use your client’s name every time possible. Use it during opening, voir dire, and any chance you get. Warning be aware of any local rules that prohibit an attorney from calling a witness by their first name.
Here is one last idea. Start compiling a list of danger words. Professor Sunwolf wrote an excellent book on Jury Dynamics. It is worth reading. professor Sunwolf talks about angel words and devil words. Use angel words. Avoid devil words like client and defendant.