Courtroom Humor Has Risks But Also Benefits For Attys

01.06.2014
Law360

Nossaman Partner Patrick Richard was quoted in the Law360 article "Courtroom Humor Has Risks But Also Benefits For Attys," about the debate over whether attorneys should use humor in the courtroom.

According to Mr. Richard, while jokes should never be used to mock opposing counsel, the judge or the jury, lawyers should feel safe using humor as long as they do so sparingly and naturally.

"Lawyers have a number of tools in their toolbox, and humor can be one of them," he said.

Mr. Richard told a story about a trial in which he was defending San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, known as Muni, in a case brought by someone who had fallen on the bus.  He was questioning potential jurors when a woman noted that her husband had been a Muni bus driver for 30 years.  Mr. Richard got a laugh when he told the judge that he would have no objection having the woman on the jury.  She did not end up serving, but the remaining people who did later deliberated less than two hours before announcing a verdict in favor of Mr. Richard's client.

He noted, "Being a juror is a foreign experience for most people, and that joke relaxed people a little bit.  I do think humor can promote my clients' interests because it shows I'm comfortable with the process."

Mr. Richard disagrees with those who say there is no place for humor in the courtroom because it is too much of a risk.

"If you're in a trial, then you're already taking a risk," Mr. Richard said.  "Taking appropriate risks is what you have to do to win.  If someone tells lawyers to avoid humor at all costs because it's too risky, then they should also tell them to avoid the courtroom because it's too risky."

Mr. Richard noted that he avoids jokes that are rehearsed or have a long lead-in, but his quips are not completely spontaneous. 

"I always think for a second, ‘Is this appropriate?'" he said.  "I usually make that decision in a second and a half.  Most good humor is timing, and if you wait, you've lost the moment. … I'm always mindful that my audience is a judge and jury."

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