Monthly Archives: May 2014

Nothing Brings “Story-Telling” to a Grinding Halt Like Laying Foundation

Witness Examination

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to watch several longs trials from start to finish over the course of my career. Most of these have been in the context of conducting shadow juries, where four to six jury-eligible participants watch trial and provide feedback about each day’s proceedings. It is incredibly rare to receive this kind of data, uninhibited by the limitations of mock presentations and post-trial juror interviews. Every jury consultant should have the opportunity to have this experience because it forces the industry to reconcile its theories of jury-decision making with the practical limitations of courtroom proceedings. In other words, it is one thing to sit in a meeting months out from trial and feel good about the great “story” the attorney is going to tell at trial, but it is quite another thing to be able to help that attorney understand how to practically go about telling that story effectively at trial within the framework of courtroom procedures and all of the inherent limitations of the fragmented, nonlinear means of presenting evidence and testimony.

I just recently finished a shadow jury for a four-week trial and had an “aha” about one of the most prevalent, yet under-appreciated limitations that attorneys face at trial in their attempts to get “the story” out: Nothing brings “story-telling” to a grinding halt like having to lay foundation. Foundation slows down “story-telling” by essentially creating large gaps between the key pieces of evidence and testimony. Continue reading

Strategic Considerations of How Case Presentation Influences Jurors’ Note-Taking (Part 1)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. 

There has been a lot of discussion and research devoted to the value of juror note-taking. Not too long ago, the concept of allowing jurors to take notes during trial was considered cutting edge. Some trial venues still do not allow it, although most do. No attention appears to have been given to strategies for influencing juror note-taking, which is shocking since so much of the research speaks to the influence that note taking plays in deliberations. According to one study, 75% of all jurors given the opportunity to take notes believed it assisted them in recalling the evidence, understanding the law and reaching a decision. Given the influence that jurors’ notes play in their decision-making, the jury consulting field needs to venture into an examination of how presentation strategies can influence the process of note-taking.

I am absolutely convinced there is a significant strategic advantage to be gained when an attorney can structure a presentation in a manner that exerts influence on juror note-taking. But it is not enough that jurors just take notes. This is the problem of the current research. It focuses on the value of taking notes versus not taking notes. But the issue is not that simple. The real strategy development lies in the next level of examining how jurors take and use their notes and how an attorney’s presentation at trial can influence the way in which jurors take and use their notes. Continue reading