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In a recent post here, I confessed my guilty pleasure: watching NBC’s hit reality singing competition, ‘The Voice.’ But I also acknowledged my frustration over the format: too much inconsequential fluff that’s got nothing to do with singing. For one thing, there’s the vapid bantering between the coaches and the inevitable and insincere implication that every pairing of performers compels a decision as agonizing as Sophie’s Choice. And then there’s the over-dramatization of many contestants’ personal stories that can feel a bit cringy when the judges purport to empathize with issues around, among other things, body image, bullying, sexual orientation, and loss. (In fact, watch for a future blog post about the importance of authenticity). These personal subplots help explain why, as I previously pointed out, the most exceptional voice rarely wins ‘The Voice.’ And in all of this is a lesson about jury trials. Who wins ‘The Voice’ depends on who decides who wins ‘The Voice.’ Succeeding in the early rounds depends upon winning over elites – judges who are experts in vocal performance. One would expect qualities like timbre, tone, pitch, range, resonance, phrasing, articulation, dynamics, as well as good taste, among others, to feature prominently in an assessment of the best voice by the music judges. By contrast, audience members are far less likely to be capable of similar discernment. While the public can authoritatively say what it likes, it is not sufficiently trained or experienced to identify the superlative voice the program promises. Yet, to win on ‘The Voice,’ a contestant must ultimately win over the less discerning voting public and not the elite judges. What it takes to succeed with subject matter experts is quite different from what it takes to win over an essentially unsophisticated TV audience. In fact, their very unsuitability for discerning technical vocal quality with sufficient granularity to distinguish among a field of talented singers may explain why audience members likely consider a broader (and more accessible) range of criteria, such as the performers’ feel-good back stories. Perhaps, in that sense, ‘The Voice’ imitates life, where it is as important to be lucky, and liked, as it is to be superlative. Just as a contestant on ‘The Voice’ must manage the transition from being judged by experts (musical superstars) to being judged by lay people (the viewing public), so too must the trial lawyer. Most of us have spent an overwhelmingly disproportionate share of our professional time and energy persuading the minds of other well-trained, elite legal professionals – in-house lawyers, opposing counsel, and, at the top of that heap, judges. We know precisely how to talk to them because we speak the same language.

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Part 1 of a multi-part series. I have a shameful secret: I watch NBC’s ‘The Voice.’ In fact, to come entirely clean, I guess I should say, “I faithfully watch ‘The Voice.’” The revelation of this guilty pleasure would come as a surprise to people who know me because of both my specific contempt for “reality TV” and my more general disdain of formulaic dreck. Ironically, ‘The Voice’ is both – in spades. Apart from the musical performances, there is a surfeit of contrived drama: the competition and bantering between the judges, and the often cloying back stories of the performers. Ugh. But there is no curious conundrum to resolve here: I like ‘The Voice’ despite the fact that it is unabashedly formulaic reality TV (a sin that technology helps me minimize). For those of you who don’t know it, ‘The Voice’ is a singing competition. And I happen to be captivated by musical talent. I get completely floored by a 14-year old girl with the vocal timbre of Billie Holiday or Amy Winehouse and am left slack-jawed by the burly former linebacker with the range and falsetto of Philip Bailey. But it’s not just the surprise of those incongruities. For me, it is almost exclusively about the quality of the performers’ pipes and, occasionally, the musical instincts and insights of the “superstar” musicians who first judge, then coach, the contestants. Now, I suspect that my television viewing habits hold your interest just about as much as my love of pudding, but there is a substantive point behind this confessional. Useful lessons about trial presentation and persuasion can be learned from ‘The Voice,’ which first aired in 2011.  First, some background. ‘The Voice’ is a complex, intensely dramatic version of the old-fashioned talent show. At the end of each season, one singer, drawn from the ranks of thousands of Americans who believe they have musical talent and have entered the competition, is crowned the winner and signed to a recording contract.

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There are so many legal industry "best of" surveys that I have a hard time keeping track of them. Just about every month in one of them A2L is voted the top firm in either jury consulting, litigation graphics consulting, litigation consulting, or for our trial tech/hot seat services.    I am grateful for our clients and blog readers who take the time to help and vote for us. It is a very big deal for me to see the company I helped build these past 24 years be recognized. While I know our people are the best at what they do, it is still it's nice to hear other people say it too.   In a sea of surveys, one rises above the rest — The annual Best of the National Law Journal.   A2L has been named #1 in this NLJ survey before. Today, I'm asking a favor of our readers.   Would you help us be voted #1 in the nation again? It takes 2 minutes to help us be (publicly) recognized as the nation's top litigation consulting firm.     We are nominated in four categories. Here's how you vote: Go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BestofNLJ2019 before November 1, 2018 Answer at least questions 11, 55, 58 & 59 Click through the next buttons until you click DONE.                        

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When Preferred Vendor Programs Go Bad

It has become quite common for major corporations to institute preferred vendor programs for their legal representation, under which a limited number of law firms pre-qualify to do legal work for the corporations and the corporations turn exclusively to these law firms. As an article on the American Bar Association’s website noted in 2014: Companies create preferred counsel lists not only to cut costs but also to build relationships with subject-matter experts relevant to their industries in their most important geographical areas. By consolidating work across fewer firms, companies deepen their counsel’s familiarity with their issues and get more consistency in their representation. Corporations are also using preferred vendor programs to select other types of outside professionals – including, significantly for our purposes, litigation consultants, jury consultants, litigation graphics consultants, and trial technicians. A few years ago, in fact, we published an article here suggesting no fewer than 17 best practices that should apply to the implementation of a preferred vendor program for trial consultants. The third of these suggested best practices perhaps should have been listed as the first, since the way I see things in our industry, it is the most relevant to what is going on today. It was: Remember, litigation is generally a one-time thing: You never want to be so focused on price that you overlook this. For trial support, you generally only get one bite at the apple, and vendors, especially new ones, can be a risk. So, as you consider procurement, be mindful of quality. Trust me, all firms are not created equal in this industry.

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We have written many times about what separates good trial teams from world-class trial teams. One article collectively written by many people inside and outside of A2L stands out to me as seminal. It can be found here: 10 Criteria that Define Great Trial Teams If I could have all trial lawyers read only one of our articles, it would be this one. It is one of more than 600 on our site, but it succinctly reflects our leadership's best thinking, and it best summarizes what most of the other 599+ articles say. This simple list of 10 criteria, especially when used as a trial team self-assessment tool, is a thing of magic. In arriving at this deceptively simple list, we captured hundreds of years of trial experience. At first, we identified 50 trial team traits that set the great ones apart from the ordinary (you can see these in this article). When we reduced these 50 traits to 10 key criteria, I think we revealed the secret ingredients of a successful trial team. And in the two years since that was published, I have not seen any reason to revise the criteria. In fact, I’ve seen this list turned assessment tool perform consistently: Trial teams with low scores lose cases; trial teams with high scores win cases. Nowhere on this list do we explicitly use the term groupthink, but our thoughts on the subject are certainly implied through our selection of these 10 traits. First, what is groupthink? Wikipedia says: “Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.” During trial preparation, members of a trial team can easily put not wanting to be wrong or different ahead of challenging a group decision. We have written about trial teams becoming dysfunctional under severe stress several times before in articles like: 5 Signs of a Dysfunctional Trial Team (and What to Do About It) When a Good Trial Team Goes Bad: The Psychology of Team Anxiety Groupthink is a little different than the nearly complete group breakdowns described in these articles, however. It's a little more subtle and not quite as nightmarish. Still, groupthink can derail a case -- and it often does. Although groupthink can raise its head at any time, we often see it emerge when a trial team is evaluating an opening PowerPoint deck under development, particularly if there are more than five people doing the evaluating. Members of the team will avoid challenging everything, including the specific slides, the order the story is told in, and what not to say during opening. Instead, they will give the appearance of agreement by staying silent. This is groupthink and it does not help win cases. It does the opposite. Here are nine ideas for solving these problems in a trial team. Get the “buts” out of the room: This is an expression we use at A2L. When you are doing creative work, nothing shuts down the creative mind more than someone who jumps in to say why something won't work. These statements usually start with the word “but.” See, Dealing With That ‘Bad Apple’ on Your Trial Team. Establish rules for your trial team meetings: Here are two we often use: silence is acceptance, and no spectators allowed. Ask your litigation graphics team for variations to stimulate thinking. Looking at one litigation graphic may generate some discussion, but looking at two variations guarantees it. Ask for this from your provider. See, 10 Reasons The Litigation Graphics You DO NOT Use Are Important.

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This weekend, television news is sure to be dominated by Hurricane Florence. Many of us will watch the all-too-familiar scenes of high waves hitting the coastline and reporters being blown about by powerful winds. It's almost routine from a TV-watching perspective. But one unusually persuasive graphic caught my attention this week. Did you happen to see the Weather Channel’s storm surge simulation? I think it’s brilliant, and it potentially offers some lessons for forward-thinking trial counsel. The simulation begins at the 55-second mark in the video below:

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I’ve been watching the baby powder/talc trials closely for the past several years. They feature some of the world’s best lawyers, and they are pushing the boundaries of scientific evidence. For anyone in the litigation business, the talc trials, as well as the trials involving the alleged cancer-causing properties of Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, form a fascinating window into how big-ticket cases are being tried right now. In both lines of cases, plaintiffs are showing early dominance, and I think the defense accordingly needs to adjust both how it handles demonstrative evidence and how it deals with scientific evidence. Interestingly, both of these types of trials can be watched on the Courtroom View Network (CVN). I have long advocated that trial attorneys should be watching other trial attorneys on CVN because there’s almost no other way to see today’s great lawyers in action. In the most recent talc trial, famed plaintiffs lawyer Mark Lanier of Houston took on Johnson & Johnson, which makes talcum powder products. He asserted that his clients, 22 women who used the products, were exposed to asbestos found in talc and that this exposure caused them to contract ovarian cancer. The case is notable for many reasons. The result was certainly remarkable as this past July, plaintiffs were awarded nearly $4.7 billion in damages by a jury in a Missouri state court. The case is also one of the most high-profile cases to utilize genetic evidence. And that aspect was particularly interesting to me as this is an area that A2L and its partners at Innovative Science Solutions have been discussing for the last couple of years. We even held a conference on the topic of the use of genetic evidence in civil litigation. So let me discuss two aspects of this case. First, while I am not an expert in analyzing genetic evidence in civil cases, I do understand how to use it and how to present it. In this case, the defense was clearly reluctant to use genetic evidence, and it only lightly cross-examined plaintiffs’ genetics expert. I don’t know for sure, but I’ll speculate that like other defendants, Johnson & Johnson may have feared that by presenting genetic evidence as a defendant it would position the plaintiffs as a so-called eggshell plaintiffs, making liability easier for plaintiffs to prove. See takeaway #6 in this article where we discuss why this thinking is specious. Whether or not defendants were concerned about the role of genetics in conveying to the jury that these may be eggshell plaintiffs, Lanier appeared to adopt this approach anyway. He utilized genetics to affirmatively allege that the plaintiffs were especially vulnerable to the effects of talc. This highlights an apparent growing trend of the plaintiff utilizing genetics to demonstrate plaintiff susceptibility to alleged toxins and a need for the defense to effectively address and rebut this assertion. I haven’t seen that tactic before. and similarly situated defendants must get ready for this tactic in other cases. A good place to start would be talking to my friend and frequent collaborator Dr. David Schwartz at Innovative Science Solutions who is doing pioneering work with the group ToxicoGenomica. The second element of this trial that I found fascinating was Lanier’s use of demonstrative evidence. In most big-ticket litigation demonstrative evidence is exchanged a day or so before it is used, to allow for objections to be made. Clearly, Lanier has figured out a workaround by drawing (or having his colleague draw) a highly prejudicial demonstrative that for whatever reason the defense did get excluded. It's the featured picture in this article, but let me show you what I mean in this clickable video clip and transcript below from our friends at CVN. Here Mark Lanier perfectly combines the eggshell plaintiff approach with an objectionable piece of demonstrative evidence to powerfully drive a point home. His message is that some people are genetically more susceptible to cancer-causing agents like asbestos and that Johnson and Johnson and their baby powder products pushed plaintiffs over the cliff where cancer happens. Other free A2L Consulting resources related to genetics in civil litigation, litigation graphics, and demonstrative evidence include: With So Few Trials, Where Do You Find Trial Experience Now? 7 Key Takeaways from the Genetics in Civil Law Conference Free slide decks from the Genetics in Civil Law Conference Free E-Book: The Litigator's Guide to Combating Junk Science - 2nd Edition Repelling the Reptile Trial Strategy as Defense Counsel - Part 3 - Understanding the Bad Science The Importance of Litigation Graphics in Toxic Tort Litigation 10 Key Expert Witness Areas to Consider in Your Next Toxic Tort Case Free Download: Using Science to Prevail at Trial or As an Advocate 7 Reasons the Consulting Expert is Crucial in Science-Based Litigation Using Trial Graphics & Statistics to Win 12 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Trial Graphics Consultant Repelling the Reptile Trial Strategy as Defense Counsel - Part 1 Teaching Science to a Jury: A Trial Consulting Challenge 5 Valuable (and Free) Complex or Science-Focused Litigation Resources Winning BEFORE Trial - Part 3 - Storytelling for Lawyers

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Trial teams frequently wrestle with questions surrounding how simple a trial presentation should be. It’s a good thing to worry about. They worry about coming off as condescending. They worry about the story being impossible to simplify. They worry about what order to tell the story in. These are all understandable questions to wrestle with. Unfortunately, on the question of how simple a case should be made, I think most trial teams end up talking themselves out of the right answer. So here’s the answer in five parts.  A trial presentation should be so simple that: 

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