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Embrace Plain English Jury Instructions, by Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm, Persuasive Litigator


I often play the role of the ‘judge’ during a mock trial. In that capacity, I have the pleasure of reading the legal instructions to the mock jurors just before they deliberate. While I’m droning on about ‘preponderance,’ and ‘proximate cause,’ and making the plaintiff ‘whole,’ I am often met with quizzical looks as the jurors grapple with the language. Some have even made a vain attempt to raise their hands to ask a question. I sometimes wish I could explain, ‘Look, my point is not for you to understand this… it is just to be realistic.’ And, too often, what is realistic is for the instructions to be dense at best and incomprehensible at worst. ’Jury instructions are written by lawyers,’ the American Judicature Society points out, ‘and are often filled with legal language whose meaning is not apparent to those without legal training.’ . . .