Millennial and Gen Z jurors. If you are a defense attorney, your blood pressure might already be rising at the mere mention of the emergence of these jurors. After all, millennial and Gen Z’ers are often cited as one of the primary causes of the rise of so-called nuclear verdicts. The narrative generally goes that they are anti-corporate, too idealistic, and, in some cases, too young to have any realistic concept of money. Some of them have weird tattoos. Some of them have unnatural colors in their hair. Many of them cannot enjoy a night out without staring at their smartphone most of the time. In fact, there is nothing more quiet than two millennials on a date.
I’m kidding of course…kind of. It is funny in some respects to adopt a “kids these days” view of millennial and Gen Z jurors, solidifying the notion that I have become my parents. Regardless of what you think of them, they are here to stay. A couple years ago, I took the venire data of 17 recent juries I had picked. The total sample was well over 1,000. Millennials (defined as those born between 1981 and 1996) made up 31% of the jury pool in those cases. Millennial and Gen Z representation in the jury pool will only increase in the coming years. This is important because one can criticize millennial and Gen Z jurors all that they want, but it does not change the fact that these individuals will be part of your jury at trial.
Millennial jurors (and Gen Z to a lesser extent) are a popular topic among lawyers these days, but notably, there is very little published research on the topic of millennial/Gen Z jurors and large damage awards. Instead, it seems that most have adopted the operating assumption that these younger jurors are more likely to go nuclear with their damage awards, despite the dearth of research to actually support this assumption. In fact, a simple Google search will return dozens of pages of results where attorneys, scholars, and others have written about the millennial and Gen Z juror, but you will find no actual research studies. At best, there are a variety of memorable anecdotes.
Fortunately, Sound Jury Consulting recently conducted a controlled study that finally sheds some light on these assumptions. Our study involved six personal injury cases with a total of 1,200 mock jurors from across the nation. Each mock juror listened to detailed case presentations and completed a verdict form. The results were fascinating. We eliminated all defense verdicts and looked at only those who found in favor of the plaintiff since our focus was on factors that drive nuclear verdicts. From there, we categorized all verdicts as nuclear or non-nuclear, using the generally accepted threshold of $10M.
The results showed that millennial and Gen Z jurors are much more likely to go nuclear. In our data, 46% of the millennial and Gen Z mock jurors went nuclear compared to only 35% of mock jurors over the age of 39. In other words, nearly half of all millennial and Gen Z jurors went nuclear with their verdicts in these personal injury cases. This is reliable proof from a controlled study that millennial and Gen Z jurors should, in fact, cause more concern to defendants.
Does that mean defendants are in trouble if they end up with millennial and Gen Z jurors in the box? Not necessarily. After all, as with any demographic, not every millennial and Gen Z’er is the same. However, if one were inclined to generalize, research suggests that the most helpful generalization should focus on learning style. There is some interesting research out there that suggests that one of the problems of millennial and Gen Z jurors may actually have to do with a failure by attorneys to adapt to the learning style of these younger generations, which has changed in large part due to the incredible advances in technology that have taken place over their lifetime. We discussed specific aspects of this in one of our previous blog posts.