The current NFL scandal surrounding Ray Rice and his wife, and the numerous subsequent incidents with other players (i.e. Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson, etc.), offers a perfect example of the problem with the “storytelling” advice that pervades the jury consulting industry these days. In many respects, the story for the NFL was strong. It had all the components of apology that scholars recommend for corporate scandals. It indicated that change was imminent. In short, it was a good story and everyone probably (understandably) felt good about themselves when the team developed the story in some conference room somewhere.
The NFL is a lot like many corporate defendants. As Gregg Easterbrook argued in a piece for ESPN, the public has been waiting for an opportunity to criticize the NFL due to its arrogance in recent years, and the NFL had no reserve of goodwill to help it through the situation. Corporate defendants are similarly situated. Large portions of the American public have strong, negative opinions of corporations and their actions. When a corporation is named as a defendant in a lawsuit, there is rarely a reserve of goodwill at trial that softens the critical orientation of jurors. This poses a significant burden on the corporation as we have seen with the NFL. Continue reading →
Libraries have shelves and shelves of books and articles full of clever tricks and tips for developing effective case theories and themes. Some are gimmicks. Some do not come close to accomplishing what they promise. I recall hearing one story about placing a bunch of case-related words in a jar and randomly picking them out. I have seen exercises that reminded me of the old Mad Libs books from my childhood years. One of the dangers in our profession is that the givers of advice can get a little too cute or “gimmicky” in their attempts to set themselves apart from others.
In my experience, the most important exercise for effective theme development is also one of the most simple, elementary, and non-gimmicky exercises out there: systematically listing out the case weaknesses and strengths. In case strategy sessions with my clients, we post those large 3M sheets up on the wall with one or two sheets a piece devoted to the weaknesses and strengths. We start with the depressing part and focus solely on the case weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Once we have listed off every weakness or vulnerability we can think of, we change gears and do the same for the case strengths. Having the list within visual reference is extremely helpful as we move into the theme development portion of the section.
One of the greatest difficulties in any trial is coping with the uncertainty of the outcome. There is a sense (or at least an illusion) of control in just about everything leading up to the moment attorneys must present the issues to the trier-of-fact. And then there is uncertainty: How will the judge perceive the issues? How will the jurors perceive the issues?
This uncertainty, based on my experience, seems particularly vexing for attorneys. Attorneys seem built to control and this makes sense. Anyone who is passionate about strategy and argument is naturally going to have a strong need for control. In this respect, this need for control is healthy and positive. It drives attorneys to work hard and prepare the best case possible. However, there is also a downside to this need for control: it often causes attorneys to look too hard for any cues from the judge or jury about how he/she/they might feel about the case. Continue reading →