Please join me in wishing all the authors of A2L's Litigation Consulting Report blog a Happy 8 Year Blogging Anniversary!
Please join me in wishing all the authors of A2L's Litigation Consulting Report blog a Happy 8 Year Blogging Anniversary!
Great trial lawyers are paid to tell stories for a living. Typically, one side’s recitation of a story is more persuasive than the other – even when both sides are drawing on the same set of facts. But why? Is it the charisma of the trial lawyer? Is it the way the story is told by both sides? Is it the deployment of superior litigation graphics by one side? Well, it’s all these things – and more. Our litigation consulting firm is often engaged to help top trial lawyers tell their stories in the most persuasive way possible. We do this by applying the latest findings of persuasion science and sharing the wisdom that we inherit by routinely observing the world’s very best trial lawyers. This article is the first in a series of four articles. My goal in this series is to reveal some of the tricks of the persuasive storytelling trade in one place for the busy trial lawyer. I hope that these recommendations can serve as a pretrial checklist for anyone who wants to draft an opening statement. A2L’s litigation consultants have published dozens of articles about storytelling, and we’ve released books and webinars on the subject. These ten tips represent the essence of what we have learned and of what we have taught. If you apply these ten suggestions when developing your story for trial, your story will be more persuasive, and you will radically increase your chances of winning your case. Tip #1. There must be a story. You should present a story, and it should follow the basic guidelines of storytelling. That is, there should be a beginning, middle, and end, and there should be storylines and human characters that your factfinders care about. Research tells us that human beings automatically make stories out of virtually all life events to gain a sense of control, even if it’s a false sense. It’s the difference between collecting bare facts and interpreting them in a coherent manner. Most people can’t resist making assumptions, drawing inferences, and imposing upon the facts what they “mean” rather than merely accepting information as is. Most of what people discuss in their social lives are stories and gossip – not random facts. Since we know that your jury will be using a story to sort out your litigation facts in order to reach its results, whose story do you want the jurors using -- one they’ve made up, one provided by opposing counsel, or yours? If we now think about how one might tell a story in an opening statement, below is a model for telling such a persuasive story. This example comes from a trial that ultimately derived from the financial crisis of the last half of the decade of the 2000s, where the issue was whether a bank could be held liable to its shareholders for bad real estate investments that the bank made. Introduction: I like to start with the statement of some fundamental truths and an introduction of the characters like, “Banks survive on greed - it's how they make money. When they make good loans, they make money. When they make bad loans, they lose money. These bankers are essentially being accused of making bad loans, which to be true would have to mean, they were not trying to make money. When is the last time you heard of bankers not trying to make money? It makes no sense.”
No matter where you stand on the border wall dispute that has captivated the nation, you have to admit that it is an important debate. After all, $5 billion is a lot of money and who knows if the wall will really make a difference. But allowing between 200,000 and 2,000,000 people to easily enter the United States every year via the border with Mexico is probably not a good thing either. You probably just automatically identified yourself with one of those two previous sentences and took it as your position, right? The other sentence may have even made you angry or at least started you thinking about counter-arguments. In other words, like most political discussions, minds are rarely changed by more facts. It's kind of like a jury trial, right? You hear one side. You attach to it emotionally and then proceed to ignore evidence that is contrary to your new belief. In jury consulting-speak, this phenomenon is called confirmation bias. As a jury consulting firm, we've written about confirmation bias many times. See, for example: I’m Right, Right? 5 Ways to Manage Juror Bias Jurors Will Believe Anything (That They Already Believe) When Smart Ain’t So Smart - Cognitive Bias, Experts and Jurors Font Matters - A Trial Graphics Consultant's Trick to Overcome Bias Could Surprise Be One of Your Best Visual Persuasion Tools? 7 Ways to Overcome Cognitive Bias and Persuade However, A2L is not just a jury consulting firm. We’re also a top-ranked litigation graphics firm (and litigation consulting and trial technology consulting firm). So I'm always baffled by big disputes where the participants fail to use pictures effectively. In this day and age, there is no excuse. The science of visual persuasion is well established. See, What is Visual Persuasion and What Do You Need to Know About It?
It's my eighth year writing an end-of-year top-10 style article. That feels pretty great because in that time, we have published more than 600 articles and A2L's Litigation Consulting Report blog has been visited one million times. Wow, right?
A couple of years ago, I was involved in running a genetics conference focused on using genetics as a defense tactic in civil cases, much in the way that DNA evidence is used in criminal cases. I've been working with experts in this field ever since. A few months back, I wrote an article about the clever use by plaintiffs of litigation graphics and genetics in the baby powder (talc) cases (see Some Lessons for Defendants From the Talc Liability Trials), including a $4 billion verdict against a major talc manufacturer. When I write about various types of cases, I often hear from lawyers who handle the types of cases I write about. On my post on the use of genetics evidence in the talc litigation, how many talc defense lawyers do you think I heard from? If you guessed zero, you'd be exactly right. And that's a problem. Not ready to accept that this is a problem for defendants? Then I will ask whether the plaintiffs’ talc bar was similarly unresponsive. As you can probably guess from the way I posed the question, the answer is no. Out of discretion, I won't say exactly who or how many responded, but it was more than zero. Even though there is more to gain for the defense bar from understanding and leveraging these critical tools, it’s the plaintiffs’ lawyers who are most active in the field, striving to improve their approach. From the defense bar — crickets. And that's the problem I'm seeing in the way some of these talc cases are being defended. Defense counsel appear to be playing defense – and completely ignoring the key point that the best defense in litigation is a good offense. These verdicts are having an impact on the companies involved. Last Friday, on December 14, 2018, shares of Johnson & Johnson fell 10 percent and were set to have their largest percentage drop in more than 16 years, after Reuters reported that the company knew for decades that there was some asbestos in its baby powder. Yesterday, December 18, 2018, Johnson and Johnson ran the full page ad seen here in an attempt to manage this growing crisis. For trial lawyers and litigation consulting firms like ours, these asbestos allegations are not new or surprising. It's what plaintiff's have alleged recently and have used to prevail in these cases. The surprising thing in these cases is defense counsel's unnecessarily passive approach. When products are accused of causing harm, defense lawyers often choose one of the following defense strategies: Assert the harm was caused by something else but we don’t know what (the “idiopathic” defense) Assert the harm was caused by something else and we know exactly what. Typically, most defendants have chosen the ‘we don’t know what other thing caused it’ strategy because it avoids giving up the favorable allocation of the burden of proof and assuming the very specific (and often difficult) burden of proving an alternative cause – much as criminal defendants take advantage of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. Not surprisingly, this argument generally falls flat. Recently, the plaintiffs’ bar won a multi-billion-dollar verdict by asserting that there is asbestos in talc and that it causes mesothelioma. This is highly improbable for several logical reasons — but jurors tend to follow emotion first and logic second when deliberating. If asbestos is present in baby powder at all, it would be in such small amounts that one could not reasonably connect mesothelioma to it. If defense counsel asserts (as they have been) that the mesothelioma was caused by some other identified source of asbestos, and not by talc, that leaves jurors without the necessary tools to argue for a defense verdict during deliberations. So, what if defense counsel could instead prove that the plaintiff’s mesothelioma was caused by something other than asbestos in baby powder? Something identifiable, measurable, and specific. Using modern genetics, this is now possible. And it is a major sea change.
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.
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.
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.