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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
Every successful strategy development session I have conducted with clients culminated in an “a-ha” moment, where we collectively came to some sort of realization about the case…a moment of clarity you might say…that fundamentally changed the way we presented the case at trial. These are the moments strategists live for and they are the difference makers when it comes to strategy development. The vast majority of these moments tend to result in a perspective shift for the case theory and story. In other words, the realizations usually result in telling the story from a different perspective within the confines of the case. These sort of perspective shifts can be devastating for an opponent. Perspective shifts can undermine or eliminate the offense for the other side and narrow the case in a manner that makes it difficult for the other side to prevail.
One of my favorite examples of the perspective shift in lawsuits came from attorney Mike Lewis, who was the main architect of the lawsuits brought by the States against Big Tobacco. Lewis worked for the plaintiffs in those cases. His strategy was a brilliant example of an effective perspective shift. Lewis was frustrated with the poor success rate plaintiffs had against Big Tobacco. While there was strong evidence about what Big Tobacco knew and hid from the public, Big Tobacco had a simple and powerful theme: personal choice. In other words, Big Tobacco had prevailed in so many cases because it would simply argue that the plaintiff made the choice to become a smoker. This created a simple and powerful focal points for jurors by drawing in the element of personal responsibility. This theme resonated with jurors across the country and led to low success rates for plaintiffs. Continue reading →