At A2L, we publish so many articles about litigation and trial preparation that I like to share the best of the best periodically.
At A2L, we publish so many articles about litigation and trial preparation that I like to share the best of the best periodically.
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
If you're one of the nearly 10,000 long-time readers of this litigation consulting blog, you know that periodically, we list the recent articles that have proved the most popular. We measure popularity based on the number of times an article has been read, so these really are reader rankings. In today's article, I want to do something a little different. This time I'm listing not only the top three articles of the last quarter but also the current top three articles of all time (since 2011 when we started writing this blog). In a particular quarter, the top article may see a few thousands of individual readers reading it. However, an article on our blog for five or more years may see tens or hundreds of thousands of readers. Consistently, topics related to jury selection rank higher than those related to litigation graphics. I think this is because litigation graphics tend to be used primarily in large civil cases, whereas jury selection occurs in large and small cases and in both criminal and civil cases. These top articles should be interesting to many different types of readers. If you are interested in presenting at trial most effectively, the Netanyahu article should be studied carefully. If you participate in jury selection or hire people who do this kind of work, the voir dire article is a foundational piece. Top 3 Articles of Q2 2018: Netanyahu Persuades and Presents Better Than Most Trial Lawyers What Steve Jobs Can Teach Trial Lawyers About Trial Preparation How Much do Jury Consultants, Litigation Graphics, and Hot-Seaters Cost -- Honestly? Top 3 Articles Since 2011 (the life of our blog, The Litigation Consulting Report): 5 Questions to Ask in Voir Dire . . . Always The Top 14 Testimony Tips for Litigators and Expert Witnesses 10 Ways to Spot Your Jury Foreman
Forty years of research about the psychology of human memory has shown that our memories are far from perfect replicas of the events that they purport to describe. Eyewitness accounts, in particular, have been proved unreliable – with a profound impact on the value of courtroom testimony. Thousands of criminal convictions have been based on identifications and accounts later shown to be incorrect. Human memory is malleable -- it is affected by a number of factors that can modify it or distort it. It is well known that people can be induced to remember and to sincerely believe episodes from their past that never actually happened. This presents a difficult task for the trial lawyer. It’s not just criminal cases that turn on witnesses’ recollections of events. Most civil cases also rely on witnesses, and subjective assessments of witness credibility. Before a lawyer decides to put a fact witness on the stand, he or she needs to have some sense of how reliable that witness will be. Here are three suggestions, based on research by forensic psychologists, for the trial lawyer who wishes to assess the likely accuracy of a witness at trial. Ask the witness how confident he or she is about the planned testimony. There can be a significant relationship between how confident a witness is of his or her testimony and the likelihood that the testimony is accurate. The trial lawyer should ask the witness for a “confidence statement.” Is the witness 90 percent sure that this is what happened? Only 60 percent sure? The answer will help the trial lawyer decide how much weight to place on the witness’s testimony, or even whether to call him or her to the stand at all. Have the witness write down the key details of what he or she saw or heard. Details that are written down soon after the event are likely to be more accurate. The sooner a memory is recorded, the smaller the chance that it will be warped by hearing the accounts of others. In a civil case, it may have been months since the events in question occurred, but it still helps to ask the witness to write everything down, in his or her own words. Do not discuss the testimony with the witness too many times. Sometimes, if a witness is over-rehearsed, his or her testimony will harden to a point where it becomes rote and projects a confidence in details that is not really justified. It’s no surprise that sometimes witnesses say that they are “absolutely sure” of their testimony because they have been asked to repeat it on countless occasions before the trial. So keep to a minimum the number of times that the witness is asked to repeat his or her story. Other A2L free resources related to witness preparation, expert witnesses, and the science of persuasion include: Witness Preparation: Hit or Myth? The Top 14 Testimony Tips for Litigators and Expert Witnesses 3 Ways to Handle a Presentation-Challenged Expert Witness 7 Smart Ways for Expert Witnesses to Give Better Testimony Contact A2L about witness prep services performed by industry-leading consultants Free Download: Storytelling for Litigators How jurors evaluate expert witnesses vs. how lawyers do Witness preparation best practices - don't stay in the shallows! A2L Consulting Voted #1 Jury Consulting Firm by Readers of LegalTimes 7 Things You Never Want to Say in Court How NOT to Go to Court: Handling High Profile Clients No Advice is Better Than Bad Advice in Litigation Practice, Say Jury Consultants, is Why Movie Lawyers Perform So Well Webinar - Integrating Argument and Expert Evidence in Complex Cases Walking the Line: Don't Coach Your Experts (Re: Apple v. Samsung) 3 Articles Discussing What Jurors Really Think About You
by Tony Klapper Managing Director, Litigation Consulting A2L Consulting In our last post, we discussed why expert witnesses should rely on visual aids and litigation graphics in preparing their testimony. Another key point for expert witnesses is that no matter how well credentialed a witness is, if the jury thinks he is a jackass or if he acts in a way that is inconsistent with jurors’ perception of how an expert should act, his testimony will be useless. In every trial, the jury and the judge evaluate the credibility of every witness who testifies. If you have done something as a witness to lessen your credibility quotient, what you say will either be filtered through that lens or not even considered. For example, some experts make the mistake of engaging opposing counsel in a pitched battle during cross-examination. While a feisty expert who resists answering “yes” or “no” questions might be seen by her attorney as a hero, the jury more likely sees an expert who is being difficult -- particularly when the “yes” and “no” questions are intuitively answerable. Similarly, an expert who regularly resorts to “I don’t recall” and “I don’t know” responses to questions that objectively seem knowable and recallable also undercuts her credibility. The same is true of an expert who fights over the meaning of words that have common meanings, or starts asking questions of the questioner.
by Katie Bagwill A2L Consulting Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to learn, just from hearing a witness utter a few phrases, that the witness is lying? Unfortunately, we can’t read minds, so we need to make do with second best: reading the tone of the witness’s voice and eye movements. The scientific community has been working hard to develop a way to gauge an individual’s truth telling based on the person’s behavioral, verbal, and physiological responses. In the meantime, you can use these ideas when questioning a witness, preparing your own witness to give testimony, and selecting potential jurors.
by Tony Klapper Managing Director, Litigation Consulting A2L Consulting In my last post, I talked about the fact that an expert witness needs to express her expertise in a convincing way – but also in a way that the typical juror can understand and not in the language of a specialist. The next step in becoming a truly effective expert witness is to understand the power and the importance of visual learning. It’s a safe bet that your peer-reviewed articles contain tens of thousands of words. Your academic poster contains hundreds, maybe thousands, of words. Your PowerPoint presentations delivered to your peers contain bullet point after bullet point of words (and maybe a smattering of cartoons). Ask yourself: How many television commercials convey the importance of the advertised product through words? How many magazine advertisements do the same through words? How many movies convey their story through words? How many architects explain their designs through words? How many patents have no pictures and just words? And how many biology textbooks have no illustrations and just words? In all these instances, the visual is what matters.
by Tony Klapper Managing Director, Litigation Consulting A2L Consulting You are a specialist in your field of study. You are about to take the stand as an expert witness in court. You have read hundreds, if not thousands, of articles in your field. You likely have an advanced degree that touches on the area about which you have been asked to testify. You may have taught classes on the subject at a university. You may have presented your thoughts and research at conferences attended by your peers. You are smart. You are well-credentialed. But are you prepared to testify in a court of law? Do you know what you have to do to be just as effective on the witness stand as you are at the podium? To help you answer these questions, here is a series of articles that chronicle the unique challenges that a testifying expert faces and lays out a road map for overcoming those challenges and becoming a truly effective expert witness.