Tag Archives: closing

Give Jurors a Clear Process for Deliberations

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

A key milestone in any jury deliberation is the selection of the process for deliberations. At some point early in the deliberations, a process for the discussion is established. Jurors either verbally decide on a process or they simply default to one. By process, I mean the way in which they discuss the issues in order to reach a verdict. There are many different ways they can approach the discussion of the issues, and that process is important because it fundamentally influences the outcome.

For example, if the process begins with everyone going around and venting about the case in an open-ended fashion, that process makes the jurors’ emotions the most important part of the case…or at least establishes those emotions as initially important, which creates momentum for the side that emotions favor in the case. At that point, the emotions start to serve as filters for what evidence and testimony the jurors accept and reject. Conversely, if the jury starts the discussion by focusing on the verdict form questions and the jury instructions, that establishes that the law and things like the burden of proof are most important, which creates momentum in a potentially different direction. These are just two examples of potential starting points in the process, but there are many other factors to the process. Continue reading

Faster is Better: Finding the Right Speaking Pace

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

 What is the most appropriate pace of speech? A common belief among trial attorneys is that it is important to slow down in opening statement and closing argument, particularly when the issues in the case are complex and/or confusing. This belief makes sense since most of us have long been taught to slow down when someone is having difficulty understanding what we are saying. In fact, the term “fast-talker” has its own derogatory meaning, suggestive of a slick salesperson who is willing to say whatever is necessary to complete the sale. However, research in psychology and persuasion suggests this common belief may actually be misguided in some respects. Continue reading

Persuading a New Generation of Millennial Jurors

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

Over the past few months, I’ve celebrated my 40thbirthday, my 15thyear in the jury consulting industry, and the 5-year anniversary of Sound Jury Consulting. In short, I’m getting older, and as we grow older, the world around us changes. One of the more interesting changes in the world of juries is the increasing number of millennials serving as jurors. Recently, I looked at the venire information from 18 trials in which I picked a jury in King County, Washington (Seattle) over the past 3 years. The sample size was large — over a 1,000 potential jurors. Nearly all of these cases were set to last two or more weeks. Of the 1,000+ individuals who showed up for jury duty, 31% were millennials (i.e. 1 in every 3 people showing up for jury duty in King County is a millennial). Continue reading

Using Jury Instructions More Effectively in Closing Argument


By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

One of the studies that I like to cite more than just about any is the old 3M study that showed that people remember only about 10% of what they are told three days after it is told to them. Apply this to a trial setting and the implication is that jurors will forget up to 90% of what they heard over the course of a trial by the time they reach the deliberation room. To put it a different way, by the time jurors reach the deliberation room, they are overwhelmed, do not remember the majority of what they just heard, and face the difficult task of having to sort through hundreds to thousands of exhibits, their largely disorganized notes, and a stack of jury instructions that can be difficult to decipher. Continue reading

The Sniper Defense Episode 10 – 10 Common Mistakes that Lead to Losses

In this episode of The Sniper Defense, Tom discusses the 10 common mistakes made by defense attorneys that cause them to lose at trial.

6 Common Reasons Why Defense Attorneys Lose Cases

Depressed tired businessman with hands on head

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

Each year in the United States, juries award billions of dollars in damages to plaintiffs. In 2014, a jury in Florida awarded $23.6 billion to a single plaintiff. There are two possible explanations for these extraordinary numbers. First, for a variety of reasons, defense attorneys are often forced to take unwinnable cases all the way to trial. In these situations, they do the best they can, but cannot avoid the inevitable.

The second explanation is that defense attorneys are failing in some way to adequately try their cases. This is not intended to give insult to defense attorneys. In fact, it’s an overdue acknowledgement of the overwhelming burden that is placed at their feet. While the typical plaintiff’s case has a natural story and appeal that insulates it from even the most unskilled plaintiff attorneys, convincing a judge and jury to embrace a defense theory requires a delicate dance down a path that is fraught with danger at every turn. Continue reading

It’s the Kicker’s Fault: Placing Blame for Litigation Losses

blairwalshBy Jill D. Schmid, Ph.D.

As I sit here preparing myself for tomorrow’s Seahawk game (e.g., lighting the candles, saying the prayers, finding my lucky shirt), I find myself still in shock that we (I’m #12, so yes “we”) won that game. I would imagine there are some Minnesota fans that wouldn’t say we won, but rather they lost – lost because Walsh’s 27-yard field goal with seconds left in the game sailed left. While it’s easy to blame the last thing that happened for the loss (our win), that’s too simplistic and short-sighted. After all, there was Russell Wilson’s spectacular scramble and pass to Tyler Lockett after a botched snap that led to Seattle’s touchdown (the ONLY touchdown of the game). There was also Adrian Peterson’s fumble due to Kam Chancellor’s deft strip. Truth is Seattle won for a lot of reasons and, yes, luck was probably one of them.

Placing blame got me thinking about what we blame for litigation losses. Here’s just a few we’ve heard over the years:  “Jury was confused/dumb/in over their heads/not interested (take your pick),” “Judge made bad rulings,” “Didn’t get the jury instruction we wanted,” “Their expert was better,” “Plaintiff was really likable,” “We ran out of time in closing.” But again, the truth is, cases are lost for a variety of reasons. Rarely, if ever, can it be blamed on one thing – and especially the last thing (closing, jury instructions, jurors in deliberation). While a “Keys to success in litigation” is really more of a book subject than a blog subject, we’ve narrowed it down to a few keys that are over-looked and/or undervalued (from a jury standpoint, not a legal standpoint) that all contribute to litigation losses. It is not just one of these things; it is all of these things (among many others) that should be considered while creating your game plan.  Continue reading

Don’t Tell Me To Relax: How Anger and Gender Influence Persuasion

Female boss mad for employee
By Jill D. Schmid, Ph.D.

If you’re a woman, there’s probably been at least one time in your life when someone (my money says it was a man) has told you that you “need to relax.” I’ve been told this a few times and, each time, the person pretty quickly realized it wasn’t the smartest move. Recalling these events, two thoughts come to mind: 1) I can honestly report that I wasn’t out of control, yelling, or being irrational. Instead, I was simply strongly asserting an argument about an issue – usually something political. And, 2) I’ve never witnessed or participated in a “heated” discussion and heard someone tell a man who is aggressively arguing his point that he should “relax.”

I was reminded of all of this as I read “One Angry Woman: Anger Expression Increases Influence for Men, but Decreases Influence for Women, During Group Deliberation.” The research, conducted at Arizona State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a fascinating look into how a man’s versus a woman’s “anger” is perceived and then utilized by others when making decisions. While years of research (and real life experiences) show that women are often subjected to harsh criticism for being “too emotional” and are often labeled as “Bitches” (and worse) when behaving in similar ways to men (i.e., being aggressive or dominant in work situations), this particular study goes one step further and explores how aggressively advancing one’s position is undermined by simply being a woman. Continue reading

Why Not Just Tell the Jurors How to Deliberate?

Process_Mapping1
By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

It is a scary proposition to hand a case that you have worked on for months or years over to a jury for final adjudication. With all that’s on the line, it’s actually quite preposterous when you think about it. It took you months or years to learn enough about the case to bring it to trial and present it. Now you’ll hand the fate of all that work over to a small group of random people, who probably knew nothing about the issues in the case before they showed up for jury duty. You have no clue what they will do. All you can do is wait and hope.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, attorneys focus too much on strategies for persuasion at the expense of strategies for controlling deliberations. A persuaded juror is not necessarily an influential juror and this is important because the safest bet for any attorney is to assume there will be some division amongst the jurors when they enter that deliberation room. Strategies for persuasion do very little for the attorney in this scenario. Either they were persuaded or they were not. Now, the jurors need to figure out how to resolve the division and render a verdict. Continue reading

Big Words Don’t Make You Sound So Smart

49016078

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

Most attorneys understand the obvious and immediate downside to using big words at trial. A key component of effective persuasion is comprehension. Audiences need to understand what you are saying. This drives action. People act on things that are easy to understand and re-articulate. Consider the results of one study where researchers found that consumers are more likely to buy products that describe features with simple language than they are products that describe features using complex language.

In another study, researchers found that the fluency (ease with which it is pronounced) of a company name impacts whether or not people are willing to buy stock in that company. The authors note “fluently named stocks robustly outperformed stocks with disfluent names.” Continue reading