What Is a Corporate Rep and Why Is it Important?
A corporate representative is someone (preferably a high-ranking executive or owner) of a corporate party to a lawsuit who acts as “the face of the company.” This includes attending trial every day and sitting at counsel table. The corporate representative’s job often includes reporting back to the company about the proceedings, but the most critical aspects to being a corporate representative are to both humanize the corporation to the jury and to convey to the jury just how seriously the company takes this case.
You know your business is not just a list of assets or a profit and loss statement. It’s what you and your colleagues have dedicated your professional lives to. It’s your shareholders, employees, customers, and the community you serve. But when a company is a party to a lawsuit, it can be difficult for a jury to empathize with it. This can be especially true if the opposing party is an individual (particularly if they come across as likeable). When up against a living, breathing human being, the corporate counterparty can easily start seeming to a jury like just a “deep pocket.”
That’s why it is so important to have the right person to represent your company at trial.
What Should a Good Corporate Rep Do?
The right corporate representative is present for the entirety of trial. In a long trial, that can be a major commitment. If it is not possible for the same corporate representative to be present for every portion of trial, the company should make sure that a suitably senior person stand in for the main corporate rep. An empty seat at counsel table because no one bothered to show up on the company’s behalf will leave a negative impression on the jury – the jurors will likely think the company does not consider the trial a priority.
The right corporate representative is attentive and engaged in the proceedings. If they are not also a testifying witness, they might never say a word aloud in court, but their body language conveys their understanding of the importance of a trial and the dignity of courtroom proceedings. Remember that our system of justice demands a lot of jurors. They are expected to take time out of their own busy lives, even though it will not doubt affect their work and their families, to help solve someone else’s problems for them. If jurors are compensated at all, it is nominally. A good corporate representative, by treating the trial as important, demonstrates respect for the sacrifice and service of the jurors.
The best corporate representatives have subject matter knowledge of the case and can provide counsel with an expert’s perspective to help understand key facts and evidence presented at trial. Additionally, if the company and counsel decide you need to have a witness testify at trial on behalf of the company as a whole (as opposed to witnesses who testify about their personal knowledge of relevant events), it is ideal to have the corporate representative fill this role. This will give the jury a chance to hear from the corporate representative as a person and will further humanize the company. And since the corporate representative is entitled to be present for the entirety of the trial, even if other witnesses are excluded until the time of their own testimony, the corporate representative will have seen and heard from all of the witnesses who testified before them. Responding to an earlier witness’s testimony can have a powerful impact on the jury.
Things a Corporate Representative Must Avoid
As you’ve no doubt already figured out, a distracted, bored, or missing corporate representative can seriously damage your company’s image with the jury. If it seems like the corporate representative is counting the minutes until they can get out of the court room, it will come across to the jury as an affront. Like the corporate representative, they are probably very busy and have other things they would prefer to be doing besides sitting in court, but this is your company’s case, not the jurors’. If your corporate representative seems disinterested, it is hardly fair to expect the jury to pay close attention and be open to your company’s version of the facts. The jury is required to set aside their preconceived notions and be impartial, but they are still human. If they view your company as indifferent and detached, they may be more willing to find against you.
Additionally, if your corporate representative seems like too junior of a person or if there’s a different corporate representative at counsel table every day, you could be sending the signal to the jury that this trial isn’t important to your company.
Great trial counsel can go a long way in telling your company’s story and helping the jury make a “personal” connection, even with a corporate entity. They will work with you to identify the right corporate representative and to craft a compelling narrative to help the jury see things from your perspective.
Keller/Anderle has won groundbreaking cases for our corporate clients across numerous industries and in courts around the country. Our highly skilled trial lawyers bring together great strategic thinking and expert storytelling to create compelling trial presentations. Bring us your toughest case. We’ll get the job done.