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 →
“A verdict is a product of what jurors choose to focus on.” This mantra has been drilled into my head since my early days of working on my doctorate in Legal Communication and Psychology. The extraordinary simplicity of the statement causes it to teeter on the brink of cliché, but as my favorite author David Foster Wallace once said, “the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” Clichés are clichés for a reason: they speak to simple truths. Sometimes, however, these simple truths are so simple that they are easy to ignore, but to steal another line from Wallace, I’d ask you to “bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.”
Jurors’ focus is zero-sum. If jurors are focused on one thing, they are not focused on something else. This is critical once you consider the research that suggest jurors remember as little as 10% of what they heard over the course of trial by the time they reach deliberations. Any given case has hundreds or thousands of pieces of information associated with it. This is true of even the simplest cases. It may not feel that way to the attorneys, but that is because the attorneys have already determined what he or she believes is important about the case (i.e. he or she has already established a focus). Consequently, many facts and a lot of testimony will be forgotten or ultimately have no impact on deliberations. Focus serves as the gatekeeper for what is considered important and unimportant, which plays a critical role in what is remembered and discussed during deliberations. Continue reading →
The current NFL scandal surrounding Ray Rice and his wife, and the numerous subsequent incidents with other players (i.e. Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson, etc.), offers a perfect example of the problem with the “storytelling” advice that pervades the jury consulting industry these days. In many respects, the story for the NFL was strong. It had all the components of apology that scholars recommend for corporate scandals. It indicated that change was imminent. In short, it was a good story and everyone probably (understandably) felt good about themselves when the team developed the story in some conference room somewhere.
The NFL is a lot like many corporate defendants. As Gregg Easterbrook argued in a piece for ESPN, the public has been waiting for an opportunity to criticize the NFL due to its arrogance in recent years, and the NFL had no reserve of goodwill to help it through the situation. Corporate defendants are similarly situated. Large portions of the American public have strong, negative opinions of corporations and their actions. When a corporation is named as a defendant in a lawsuit, there is rarely a reserve of goodwill at trial that softens the critical orientation of jurors. This poses a significant burden on the corporation as we have seen with the NFL. Continue reading →
Libraries have shelves and shelves of books and articles full of clever tricks and tips for developing effective case theories and themes. Some are gimmicks. Some do not come close to accomplishing what they promise. I recall hearing one story about placing a bunch of case-related words in a jar and randomly picking them out. I have seen exercises that reminded me of the old Mad Libs books from my childhood years. One of the dangers in our profession is that the givers of advice can get a little too cute or “gimmicky” in their attempts to set themselves apart from others.
In my experience, the most important exercise for effective theme development is also one of the most simple, elementary, and non-gimmicky exercises out there: systematically listing out the case weaknesses and strengths. In case strategy sessions with my clients, we post those large 3M sheets up on the wall with one or two sheets a piece devoted to the weaknesses and strengths. We start with the depressing part and focus solely on the case weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Once we have listed off every weakness or vulnerability we can think of, we change gears and do the same for the case strengths. Having the list within visual reference is extremely helpful as we move into the theme development portion of the section.