Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Critical Role of Contrast and Difference in Effective Case Presentation and “Storytelling”

Square Peg Round Hole

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

From our earliest days on earth, we learn about contrast, difference, and fit. Whether it’s simple games like “which one is not like the other” or trying to fit different-shaped blocks into different-shaped holes, difference plays a critical role in our development and connection to the world around us. As we grow older and develop connections to the social fabric around us, contrast, difference, and fit gain more prominence in defining and understanding our place in the world. For example, scholars say gossip functions as an expression of our values against another’s. So while we may actually be talking about another person when we gossip, at its heart we are saying that person is different from us. Nearly everything we do involves differentiation. It happens on the levels of basic visual perception, social interaction, and self-understanding. In other words, it is the most natural thing we do.

For this reason, contrast and difference should play central roles in the development of the case presentation and the “story” at trial. There’s an old maxim that a verdict is the product of what jurors choose to talk about. This is one of, if not the most important principle that trial attorneys should understand because it is about focus, which is zero-sum. If jurors are focused on one thing, they are not focused on another. And the more jurors focus on something, the more critical they become of it. In other words, if jurors spend two hours of deliberation time discussing something, it is going to be a critical discussion of it. Jurors simply do not spend that kind of time heaping praise on something. Consequently, the case presentation should try to control the focus, or what the jurors talk about during deliberation. There are endless filters through which any set of case facts can be viewed, with each filter leading to a different outcome. In other words, jurors can put on blue-tinted glasses and see blue, put on green-tinted glasses and see green, etc. Difference and contrast in case presentation are the most effective ways to control the filter and consequently, the focus of discussion in deliberations. Continue reading