Making Your Case Relevant to Millennial Jurors

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

It’s hard being in a place where you don’t speak the same language as those around you. Where everyone dresses differently. Where you don’t understand their values or what causes them to act in certain ways. It can make you feel overwhelmed, vulnerable, and make you long for home. Am I talking about traveling abroad? Not quite. I’m talking about millennials on your jury.

Millennials are a hot topic among lawyers these days, mainly because their presence on juries around the country continues to grow. A lot of people like to adopt a “kids these days” mentality and argue that there is something wrong with millennials and their worldviews. However, we have looked at the data, and there are not that many differences when it comes to common legal attitudes. For example, 63% of both millennials and non-millennials agreed that, “there should be limits on how much money a jury can award to a plaintiff in a lawsuit.” 87% of non-millennials agreed with the statement that, “too many people file lawsuits in an attempt to get money they do not deserve,” compared to 75% of millennials.

I could go on and on with examples of similarities in beliefs. That’s not to say there are no differences, but there are not as many differences as you might think. At this point, you might find yourself in total disagreement, convinced that there are significant, meaningful differences with millennial jurors. And if you find yourself thinking that, here is what I have to say: You are absolutely right. There are very important differences, but the research says that we are looking in the wrong place to figure out what those differences are. What the research shows is that the difference is not in attitudes and beliefs necessarily, but in learning styles. Millennials learn differently from non-millennials, and the things we like to point to when we complain about millennial jurors are not the actual problem, but the product of a much larger, but more fixable, problem. There is some fascinating research out there demonstrating this finding, which I discussed in a previous blog post.

In this post, I want to dig in a little deeper on the element of relevance or importance, which was one of the five key learning differences that I identified in a previous post.

Here is how Christy Price describes relevance or importance:

“Millennials have grown up being able to Google anything they want to know, therefore they do not typically value information for information’s sake. As a result, the professor’s role is shifting from disseminating information to helping students apply the information. One of the greatest challenges for teachers is to connect course content to the current culture and make learning outcomes and activities relevant.”

What Price is telling us here is that millennials need to feel something is important to them. This is not particularly surprising when you consider the fact that research has shown that millennials are more narcissistic than any prior generation. To be fair, the same research shows that narcissism is increasing for all generations, but millennials seem to be leading the charge. Everything is about them.

So how do we make the presentation of the case relevant to jurors at trial? There are a variety of strategies. Here are two simple strategies.

First, identify a fundamentally appealing statement that you want jurors to make when they render a verdict in favor of your client. What is the value at play in your case? People make decisions that they can feel good about, especially when those decisions uphold values that are important to them. Consequently, the case should be framed in this way. This begins with knowing exactly what jurors are saying when they render a verdict in favor of your client. For example:

  • Is it a verdict that finally tells a large corporation that it can no longer put profits before safety?
  • Is it a verdict that finally holds the plaintiff accountable for his pattern of poor decision-making?

These are two very generic examples. Ideally, your verdict statements are a little more specific than these, but these give you a sense of what I’m talking about. Each of these statements about the verdict takes the specific fact set of the case and ties it to fundamental values that millennial jurors want to uphold and defend.

It’s important to go through the actual exercise of writing these statements down. It’s one thing to just think about it in your own head and think you know it, but it’s a totally different thing to have to clearly articulate this to your jurors. This is why it’s so important to keep a working list of your verdict statements.

Beyond verdict statements, you should find ways to ground your case theory in the personal experiences and beliefs of your millennial jurors. What seems real to them will always seem more relevant, and their personal experiences and beliefs are the foundation of how they perceive the world around them. Jury decision-making is very egocentric, meaning the evidence and testimony is filtered through jurors’ own personal experiences and beliefs as they make sense of the case. This is true for all generations of jurors, but the research suggests the magnitude of this is even greater with millennials.

One of my favorite examples of the power of personal experiences in deliberations comes from a mock jury video clip I often show in my presentations. In it, the mock juror says, “I don’t care what that guy said. We have all seen truck drivers on the road…” In short, this millennial mock juror was rejecting the actual evidence presented to him because it was inconsistent with his own personal experiences.

Personal beliefs are no different. Research has shown over and over again that we form our beliefs first and then seek out the information that supports that belief. In other word, what we want to believe is often more important than what we should believe.

The point here is that you are facing an uphill battle if your case theory goes against the common values, experiences, and beliefs of your jurors. That’s true of all jurors, but the research shows us that it is especially true of millennial jurors. These are just a couple of simple ways that you can make your case more relevant to the millennials in your jury box.