Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 281-302

First online:

Attorney communication and impression making in the courtroom

Views from Off the Bench
  • Daniel LinzAffiliated withWm. S. Middleton Memorial Veterans HospitalUniversity of Wisconsin at Madison
  • , Steven PenrodAffiliated withUniversity of Wisconsin at Madison
  • , Elaine McDonaldAffiliated withUniversity of Wisconsin at Madison


This study investigated the effectiveness of attorney communication and impression making in the courtroom. Trained in-court observers rated attorney presentations for factual and legal informativeness, organization, articulateness, and rapport during the opening statement phase of 50 trials. After the trials, jurors were asked to evaluate the attorneys' overall articulateness. enthusiasm, and likableness during the trial. The attorneys were then questioned about their own performance on these indices. The results revealed that the opening statements of prosecuting attorneys were judged by observers as better organized and more factually and legally informative than defense attorneys. However, these variables were not related to trial outcome. Juror evaluations of prosecuting attorneys more closely agreed with these attorneys' self-perceptions of courtroom performance while defense attorneys rated themselves significantly more favorably than did jurors. More courtroom experience did not generally lead to better courtroom performance during opening statements for either prosecuting or defense attorneys, and often resulted in significant overestimations of general performance relative to juror evaluations, particularly among defense attorneys. System constraints operating in favor of prosecutors and performance feedback mechanisms available to prosecutors but not to defense attorneys are discussed. These mechanisms may account for the discrepancies between juror perceptions of attorneys and attorney self-perception.