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 →
Confirmation bias refers to when people accept or reject evidence based upon what they want to believe as opposed to basing it on the actual merits of the evidence. In some ways, it is a psychological survival mechanism tied to our beliefs about how the world works. Challenges to these beliefs can cause a great deal of chaos and stress, so our brains are, essentially, pre-programmed to seek out evidence that reinforces those beliefs, while minimizing, explaining away, or outright rejecting evidence that challenges them. In fact, this explains the siloed media we have today where people tend to pick which news channels to watch based upon their political affiliation.
For lawyers, confirmation bias can be a significant problem at trial, especially when the first impressions favor the other party. As Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman notes, “The sequence in which we observe characteristics of a person is often determined by chance. Sequence matters, however, because the halo effect increases the weight of first impressions, sometimes to the point that subsequent information is mostly wasted.” In other words, first impressions at trial often shape how jurors perceive the subsequent evidence and testimony at trial. A poor first impression of the defendant will likely lead jurors to place greater focus and emphasis on evidence and testimony that reinforces the negative view of the defendant and vice versa. Continue reading →
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 →
In this episode of The Sniper Defense, Podcast Playbook for Defense Attorneys, Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. discusses strategies for defense attorneys to exert greater influence over the content and structure of jurors’ notes.
In this episode of The Sniper Defense, Tom discusses practical strategies for defense attorneys to consider as they try to make the most of their cross examination opportunities during the plaintiff’s case-in-chief.
Defense witnesses such as 30(b)(6) witnesses and key employees make or break the case. These witnesses serve a symbolic role that goes above and beyond the implications of the actual words that they say. Instead, they tell the jurors what kind of organization the defendant is. They serve as ambassadors for the defendant. If they are sloppy, disorganized, or come across as uncaring, the defendant will be perceived by the jury as sloppy, disorganized, or uncaring. In fact, the two most commonly discussed plaintiff strategies (Reptile and the referendum strategy) thrive on poor performances by key defense witnesses. The result is a frustrated jury that feels the need to “send a message” to the defendant that it needs to change the way it does business.
Fortunately, the solution is pretty simple: a witness prep session. Defense attorneys often have what they call “prep meetings” with their witnesses, but there are five common shortcomings of these sessions that undermine their effectiveness. Continue reading →
In this episode of The Sniper Defense, Podcast Playbook for the Defense, jury expert Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. discusses the ten key turning points in jury deliberations that influence the momentum for one party or another.
“Voter turnout was not as high as I had wanted” – Sanders
“Trump takes Upstate as voter turnout exceeds expectations.”
“Cruz has a real shot of winning…but only if turnout doesn’t exceed the record in 2012…”
You can’t turn on the TV without hearing some kind of statement about voter turnout – some candidates want it, while others hope it stays low. You’re either a candidate who is hoping you can motivate those who are not regular participants in the political process to come out and vote or you are hoping that apathy reigns and only the established base shows up. While it might be politically advantageous for a few candidates to try to suppress the vote, generally, the best strategy is to not only engage your base, but to also do everything possible to motivate the wider voting public to get out and act.
The same is true of your jury. While you can hope that there might be a few on the panel you consider your “base” (i.e. those who have experiences and attitudes that favor your view of the case), more likely you have a group of “undecideds” and you are going to have to do whatever you can to engage and motivate them to not only support your position, but to actively and persuasively participate in deliberations. Think of it this way: there might be people who believe, “Hmmm, that Bernie Sanders seems like he’d be a great president.” Or “Never thought Trump could be President, but that makes sense!” However, if they sit at home and do not act on their belief, then these candidates cannot win. If you have a juror who was swayed to your point of view during the trial, but during deliberations sits back and lets opposing jurors who are more passionate lead the charge, then your efforts are all for naught. Continue reading →