Finding the little fact that changes the case narrative can feel like finding a needle in a haystack at times, which is why it is always good to have a fresh pair of eyes.
By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.
Some of the best case strategies that we have developed with our clients over the years resulted in the other side having to defend something at trial that they never realized they would have to defend…something they took for granted. This is a strategy I learned during my college debate career (yes, I was a college debate nerd…but you would be surprised how many of your peers in your industry were as well). In my days of college debate, one of the most effective strategies was something called a plan-inclusive counterplan, or a “PIC” for short. The idea was that after the first (affirmative) team made their argument to start the round, the other team agreed with everything that side said except for one small, but incredibly important detail, something they never realized they might have to defend…something they took for granted. Continue reading →
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 →
I had a very interesting experience recently on a case in New York. While we had worked with the client before, we had never worked with this particular group of attorneys. The stakes were significant and there were ongoing discussions about a potential mock trial. These discussions created an interesting dynamic where the client wanted to do a mock trial, but the client’s attorneys did not support the idea and questioned the value of such a project. Notably, the client, who we had worked with several times in the past, had never conducted a mock trial before, so while he was convinced that there was value to a mock trial, he could not necessarily articulate what the specific benefits of conducting one would be.
The end result was that the client made the decision to move forward despite his attorneys’ lack of interest. Afterwards, he was so impressed with the critical insights that we learned that the decision was made to conduct a second mock trial a month later in order to maximize the trial team’s intel for its strategy development and trial presentation decisions. Continue reading →
Many attorneys and academics love to debate when cases are won or lost. Some argue that cases are won or lost in jury selection. Others point to opening statements. Research has yet to offer a definitive answer, mainly because the answer is that it is a little bit of everything. However, cross-examination rarely gets mention in the debate. Cross-examination has long been the land of lost opportunities for attorneys, particularly defense attorneys. There is so much that can be accomplished in cross-examination, yet it rarely receives the necessary pre-planning that it requires. Sure, attorneys outline the key areas of questioning, but little attention is given to cross-examination in terms of the art of presentation to the jurors. As evidence of this, in all of the shadow juries I have conducted over my career, the most common complaint from shadow jurors each day after trial is that attorneys lacked organization and clarity in their cross-examinations. This left the shadow jurors struggling to understand not only what was actually relevant, but why it was relevant. This makes the information less memorable and less likely to exert influence in deliberations. Relevance is not always clear to jurors, even though it may feel painfully obvious to the attorneys who have spent months or years in the trenches of discovery working to understand every facet of the case. Consequently, attorneys need to give greater attention to the important role of cross-examination at trial. Here are five reasons a good cross-examination is better than a great direct-examination. Continue reading →
“Themes” and “story” have been the buzzwords of the jury consulting industry for nearly forty years. Judging from the vast majority of calls that I receive, these two items are what most defense attorneys believe are the missing pieces in their efforts to convince the jury to find for the defense. It can be challenging to develop a theme or a story. It sounds so simple, yet it can be unclear about how you go about developing them. Fortunately, there are experts like me who can assist defense attorneys with this process. However, for a variety of reasons, defense attorneys do not always have the ability to retain a jury consultant. With that in mind, this blog identifies five simple, but essential exercises for defense attorneys who are trying to develop powerful themes and stories for their case.
Seem a little silly? While no attorney has ever said something like this to me, from time to time, I have sensed that a client initially thought such exercises might be silly. Any hint of this quickly fades as we get into the exercise in our strategy sessions. Defense attorneys are often surprised by how helpful these simple and “silly” exercises help them in the strategy development process. Continue reading →
In this episode of The Sniper Defense, Podcast Playbook for Defense Attorneys, Thomas O’Toole, Ph.D. discusses a process that defense attorneys can use to develop effective defense strategies and themes.
I’m a relatively new user of Facebook – turns out my protest against it wasn’t working as there are now over 1.25 billion users. I finally gave in and joined as I was told that people use it to share pictures of their kids, dogs, and vacations. While that is somewhat true, I’ve also found that people use it to “share” and “like” their political, religious, and moral views about every subject under the sun. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem sharing my opinion, but typically I like to do it in a face-to-face setting where we can engage in a discussion of the issue and where people can tell me I’m full of “it” right to my face – no hiding behind a computer screen.
My dislike for Facebook has become more intense recently. I’ve learned in the past couple of months that I’m going to have to take a hiatus from it until the political season is over. I was thinking about the posts and the feedback to those posts when an attorney friend posted the picture above.
This got me thinking about what I do – and how social media and the “sharing” of opinion as if it’s fact influences how people pay attention to, process, and remember information presented to them during trial. Continue reading →
Let me first say I’m thrilled to be joining my former colleague, Tom, at Sound Jury Consulting. Tom and I worked together for over eight years. We share the same fundamental beliefs about our profession and how we can work with attorneys and their clients in bringing their cases to the most favorable conclusions possible. I look forward to meeting those already working with Tom, and to working with many others who are looking for a trial consulting team and firm.
Since this is could be your introduction to me, I thought I’d use my first blog to summarize a critical takeaway and some observations I’ve garnered from being a trial consultant for over a decade and a communication professor for nearly the same amount of time. What I’ve learned is that this is not rocket science; I firmly believe many of the tried and true effective communication principles that have been with us for thousands of years still apply. People might want a new fancy name or brain research to prove it’s true, but all of that doesn’t diminish the fact that people pay attention to, process, understand, remember, and apply messages that: 1) Fit with their understanding of the way the world works (i.e., their world view), and 2) Hang together (they simply make sense when taken as a whole). Continue reading →
Regardless of the merit of the vast majority of literature out there on jury persuasion, most of it tends to have one critical shortcoming. It focuses on a vast array of persuasive techniques, ranging from the cliché “tell a story” advice to discussions of psychological principles such as primacy or recency, but what it fails to recognize is that persuasion is only one small part of a trial. That may sound absurd, but it’s a subtle distinction that just so happens to be an important one. 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 →