The “law of least effort” is an important principle for understanding jury decision-making. In short, if there are several ways of making sense of the evidence and testimony in a case, jurors will gravitate towards the one that is the least demanding for their brains. As Nobel-winning psychology Daniel Kahneman (who has spent his life studying human decision-making) states, “Laziness is built deep into our nature.”
In fact, research has consistently shown that we assign greater weight to information and ideas that are more easily accessible to us, regardless of whether that information or those ideas are accurate and reliable. It may be because the information or idea is familiar, easier to understand, makes more intuitive sense, or ties to something that is easier for our brain to access. Continue reading →
The critical takeaway from any meaningful discussion about primacy theory and its role in persuading jurors is often the one that is least discussed. Those who tout the importance of primacy theory often talk about priming the jurors to achieve victory, but research shows the real takeaway should be to avoid the early mistakes that cost you the trial. In short, you cannot win your case in jury selection or opening, but you can lose it there.
Everybody knows first impressions are important, but some research shows that negative first impressions are much more powerful than neutral or positive first impressions. This is called the negativity bias and it has been investigated extensively by academic researchers. Specifically, negativity bias recognizes that negative experiences or perceptions have a greater effect on one’s psychological state than neutral or positive experiences. Continue reading →
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 →
An important lesson I have learned from observing jurors’ decision-making in mock trials is that jurors sometimes dislike strategies that nevertheless are quite effective. They may not like what they see, yet they are still persuaded by it. These moments can be tough to digest. Besides the gut-check, it is difficult to ignore the fact that several mock jurors are criticizing something you did. However, research has shown over and over again that persuasion does not always happen at a conscious level. In other words, what jurors verbally express about something does not necessarily reflect its actual effectiveness. Continue reading →
Lately I’ve been following the debate about how the media should cover Trump’s statements – whether via Tweet, rally, official statement, or press “conference.” Much of the debate comes down to how to cover what he says without reinforcing the “incorrectness” of the statements. I wrote about Trump’s ability to control the narrative when he was campaigning in the GOP primary. What was true then, and now, is that the mainstream media hasn’t learned how to regain control of the narrative. Too much of the message is a nuanced attack on the “truthfulness” of the statement, with no equally compelling articulation of the what’s really happening. Trump has learned there is power in repetition, not just his, but the media’s. Repetition is powerful (as my colleague Tom wrote about in this blog), but it becomes even more powerful if you can get others to repeat your message.
George Lakoff, a professor and author – and Trump critic, wrote recently that, “Trump knows the press has a strong instinct to repeat his most outrageous claims, and this allows him to put the press to work as a marketing agency for his ideas. His lies reach millions of people through constant repetition in the press and social media.” He goes on, “Language works by activating brain structures called ‘frame-circuits’ used to understand language. They get stronger when we hear the activating language. Enough repetition can make them permanent, changing how we view the world.” And, here’s the heart of the message: “Even negating a frame-circuit activates and strengthens it…” Continue reading →
When Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in 2016 during the National Anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans, the controversy was almost immediate. The why he was doing it didn’t matter much then, and it doesn’t seem to matter much now. Instead, the protest became about the flag, the military, or even Donald Trump. One survey in October of 2017 showed that while 57% of the respondents checked that “protesting against police violence” was “one” reason for the protests, respondents also checked other reasons: Donald Trump (26%), not sure (18%), something else (20%) and the flag (14%).
This morning, as I was watching yet another story about the “Flag protest,” I wondered if support and/or understanding of the protest would be different if the label was different. While changing the label might help (labeling it what the protest is really about, e.g., “Police Brutality Protest”), what seems to have happened with this protest is that the focus became the flag and anthem as opposed to police brutality and other injustices and inequalities in the African-American community. In other words, the manner over-shadowed the message – the focus was on the protest itself and not the reason for the protest. Continue reading →
In an article called “The Case of the Vanishing Trial Lawyer,” published in the Boston Globe,a veteran litigator, Edward McCarthy, makes a compelling case for the need for associates to gain more trial experience, while acknowledging that their ability to do so is slim since the number of cases going to trial has dwindled so significantly. “Today,” he writes, “Most trial lawyers can’t learn by doing,” and he goes on to discuss how most cases settle or are handled in arbitration. He writes that “The result is that part of the legal profession’s apprentice system is disappearing.” McCarthy references that the judges of the Massachusetts Superior Court recognized the problem and asked law firms to “let less experience lawyers do something – argue a motion, examine a witness – at trial. ‘Without the chance to speak in a courtroom…future generations of litigators will be less equipped to represent their clients effectively.’” Continue reading →
It probably comes as no surprise that corporate defendants face a disadvantage at trial compared to individual defendants. A long line of research has established this general corporate bias; however, there has been little attention given to how jurors view large versus small corporations, so we collected data on the subject in a 2017 nationwide survey of jury-eligible respondents.
The data generally revealed that larger corporations face greater bias than smaller corporations on both liability and damages. As support, let’s look at some interesting data points from our survey on how respondents’ beliefs might impact their views of liability in cases involving large corporations: Continue reading →
On a recent episode of “All In,” Chris Hayes was discussing one possible approach the Trump team could take in regards to the Stormy Daniels mess. Similar to the approach John Edwards took in his lawsuit involving some of the same issues, the strategy is essentially go for broke by embracing and re-framing the “bad” behavior – “Sure I did it, but it wasn’t illegal.”
For Edwards, he stated it this way: “There’s no question that I’ve done wrong, and I take full responsibility for having done wrong. I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and harm that I’ve caused to others. But I did not break the law, and I never ever thought I was breaking the law.” Continue reading →
The value of repetition as a simple and practical strategy for persuasion at trial cannot be overstated. However, despite the fact that I repeatedly emphasize this point on repetition to clients at trial, the level of repetition is often insufficient. I have found that it is not uncommon for an attorney to believe that he or she is using repetitive language to make a point, but when reviewing transcripts, the use of this language is fairly limited. Saying something a couple of times over trial simply does not cut it. If a particular message is important, jurors need to hear it over and over again. In fact, the right amount of repetition usually exceeds attorneys’ comfort level, leaving attorneys feeling as if they are repeating arguments too much.
Sometimes, the repetition needs to be forced or creative. For example, sometimes it is important for attorneys to ask questions of witnesses that incorporate key language or facts even though the witness’s answer is not important. In other words, sometimes the question, and the repetition that is built into that direct or cross-examination question, is more important than the particular witness or that witness’s answer. In these moments, the sole purpose of asking the question is to give jurors an opportunity to hear it again. Continue reading →