Tag Archives: closing argument

Thinking About The Dynamic of Deliberations

A Jury deliberation room in a USA Courthouse

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

Happy New Year to all of the readers out there! I hope 2015 brings everyone the best in their litigation practices. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to provide more frequent updates to the blog in an effort to continue providing reliable and practical advice for implementing strategy over the course of a lawsuit.

One critical issue that rarely receives the attention it deserves is the dynamic of jury deliberations. Consideration of the dynamic should significantly influence decisions about strategy development, yet this rarely occurs. I think sometimes the problem is that attorneys tend to focus on persuasion as their objective when it comes to the jury. While this is certainly an important part of the process, it is still only one part of the process. Persuaded jurors do not necessarily result in favorable verdicts. As ridiculous as this may sound, it is true and I have seen it happen frequently in the hundreds of mock juries I have observed over the years. While unanimous verdicts happen, they are not necessarily common. There is usually some sort of division amongst the jurors when deliberations begin (even when they ultimately reach an unanimous verdict).
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Effective Strategy Development is About Case Focus

focus
By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

“A verdict is a product of what jurors choose to focus on.” This mantra has been drilled into my head since my early days of working on my doctorate in Legal Communication and Psychology. The extraordinary simplicity of the statement causes it to teeter on the brink of cliché, but as my favorite author David Foster Wallace once said, “the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” Clichés are clichés for a reason: they speak to simple truths. Sometimes, however, these simple truths are so simple that they are easy to ignore, but to steal another line from Wallace, I’d ask you to “bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.”

Jurors’ focus is zero-sum. If jurors are focused on one thing, they are not focused on something else. This is critical once you consider the research that suggest jurors remember as little as 10% of what they heard over the course of trial by the time they reach deliberations. Any given case has hundreds or thousands of pieces of information associated with it. This is true of even the simplest cases. It may not feel that way to the attorneys, but that is because the attorneys have already determined what he or she believes is important about the case (i.e. he or she has already established a focus). Consequently, many facts and a lot of testimony will be forgotten or ultimately have no impact on deliberations. Focus serves as the gatekeeper for what is considered important and unimportant, which plays a critical role in what is remembered and discussed during deliberations. Continue reading

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