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A Surprising Lesson From Voir Dire

I get excited when I am called for jury duty. After all, my entire 25-year professional career has been focused on persuading judges and juries. Serving on a jury is a rare opportunity to get a view from the inside. It allows me to confirm everything I routinely watch in mock trials and have learned. For example, see 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said. When I get called, and yesterday was that rare day, I watch everything -- from how potential jurors are organized to the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of the pool, and every little choice the lawyers make, from clothing to tactics. Unfortunately, the fact that I am a litigation consultant always comes out during voir dire. The last time I was on jury duty, I made it through voir dire and served as foreman in a small traffic case. My fellow jurors said, “You know more about this than the rest of us, so you be our foreman.” That made sense to me, and I know myself to be a good facilitator of group discussions. It was all less formal and only five jurors were seated. Today was different. Thirty-six potential jurors were called for a 12-member jury. So I knew we were going to be facing a criminal matter. Ultimately, I was dismissed, but not before I had a chance to observe the process once again as a juror and to make some observations. Once voir dire began, I noticed that the prosecutor focused very heavily (probably too much) on potential jurors who had a connection with law enforcement and the legal industry. In the process, she exposed many government-friendly law and order jurors, doing herself a disservice. She also exposed me in a discussion around witnesses who lie – something that I had seen in a recent matter that A2L consulted on. Defense counsel put on an aggressive voir dire. She visibly angered many potential jurors by using deeply complicated hypotheticals and double negatives. Jurors turned against her, she invited many objections, and the judge ultimately turned against her as well. Her techniques exposed many jurors who were likely to be biased. However, her unapologetically brash approach distanced her from every juror. So, for the defendant's sake, I hope that her co-counsel is putting on the opening. This was not just my opinion. After being released, a group of 10 also-released jurors rode down in the elevator with me. They were abuzz with negative comments about defense counsel. I asked, so did she piss you off? The universal answer was hell yes. The lesson is that although there’s no question that it’s a good idea to weed out certain types of jurors, trial lawyers must never forget that they are dealing with human beings, not computers. It’s possible to antagonize the very jurors whose votes you need as early as the voir dire process. Don’t do anything that can stand in the way of building that fragile rapport that a trial lawyer needs to develop with the jury. Other free A2L Consulting articles and resources about voir dire, jury selection, being likeable, and more: 10 Ways to Lose Voir Dire Like It or Not: Likability Counts for Credibility in the Courtroom 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said A Jury Consultant Is Called for Jury Duty 5 Questions to Ask in Voir Dire . . . Always 5 Voir Dire Questions to Avoid The Voir Dire Handbook | Free Download | A2L Consulting Jury Selection and Voir Dire: Don't Ask, Don't Know 7 Tips to Take “Dire” out of Voir Dire 10 Ways to Spot Your Jury Foreman 5 Things Every Jury Needs From You 10 Signs of a Good Jury Questionnaire 13 Revolutionary Changes in Jury Consulting & Trial Consulting Is Hiring a Jury Consultant Really Worth It? 12 Insider Tips for Choosing a Jury Consultant Do I Need a Local Jury Consultant? Maybe. Here are 7 Considerations. Who Are The Highest-Rated Jury Consultants? Webinar: 12 Things Every Mock Juror Ever Has Said  

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The Top 21 Litigation Articles of 2017

Every year going back to the start of this blog in 2011, I have paused to look back over the past 12 months of articles and see which were deemed best by our readers. Some articles have been read 90,000 times while others, often surprisingly, are only viewed a few dozen times. In this method of article ranking, every reader view is a vote. This year's top 21 list is consistent with recent years. Articles about storytelling and voir dire are the most read. The #1 ranked article, in particular, was very popular because it was not only about storytelling but features three top trial lawyers (all clients of A2L) talking on video about how they incorporate storytelling techniques into their advocacy. Enjoy these articles and please do encourage a friend to subscribe (for free) to this blog, The Litigation Consulting Report. Soon, we will have more than 10,000 subscribers. Each of these articles can be tweeted or shared on Linkedin using the buttons below the article. Click the titles to view the articles. 21. What Trial Lawyers Can Learn From Russian Facebook Ads 20. 5 Key Lessons You Can Learn From Mock Juries 19. How to Get Great Results From a Good Lawyer

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Many people are familiar with mock trials, which are full-blown exercises before a trial in which witnesses are presented and arguments made before mock jurors, who proceed to render a “verdict.” The results of mock trials, as we have discussed here before, can be extremely helpful to litigators who want to know how strong their case is, which arguments and testimony to pursue at trial, and which ones to forget about. As Slate magazine wrote in an illuminating article in 2005: Either side of a case can hold a simulated trial, and they're used in both civil and criminal cases. But because these productions can cost quite a bit of money, they're most often used by lawyers who represent wealthy clients or companies in a civil suit. First, the attorneys find a random pool of mock jurors in the jurisdiction where the trial will be held. Participants are selected by random telephone calls, classified ads, or through an employment agency. (Anyone who has recently received a summons to serve as a real juror is immediately disqualified.) Another technique that is perhaps not as well known is the early-stage focus group. These are far less formal than mock trials. They are a bit like brainstorming sessions in which jurors tell trial lawyers, often in real time, what they thought about a particular piece of evidence or a particular argument. Focus groups have several advantages: 

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It turns out that a large number of Russian ads on Facebook that viewers did not know were Russian ads influenced the way people thought about various issues last year. They may have even influenced the 2016 presidential election to some degree. Rather than delve deeply into the appropriateness of these ads (in my view, they were wholly inappropriate), who exactly directed their placement, and how exactly they affected behavior, let's instead look at these ads from a trial lawyer’s perspective.   After all, if pictures and a few short phrases can be used to change the voting behavior of the electorate, it stands to reason that pictures and some well-chosen phrases can be used to change the voting behavior of jurors. In the courtroom, there's no ethical debate about this process, since jurors know exactly where the message originates from -- the mouths of lawyers, experts, and witnesses. So if an attorney can use proven persuasion techniques and it's ethical to do so, the attorney must do so to zealously represent his or her clients. This is precisely why high-end persuasion firms like A2L exist. We're here to help persuade, using all appropriate and ethical means, both visual and rhetorical. We're not Russian hackers. Instead, we're hackers of human psychology, since we help top trial lawyers use proven techniques to maximize their persuasiveness. We do this by bringing together a remarkable combination of trial lawyers, social scientists, and artists to do what we do, a process we call litigation consulting. Let’s look at the Russian ads in this light. Because of some good investigative journalism and investigative work in Congress, many of the ads, Facebook groups, Facebook pages, and messages have been identified and published -- and most of them are really disturbing. The ads used some of the same time-honored techniques that trial lawyers use – but because their source was disguised and because they were intended to disrupt, not to persuade, they were dangerous. For example, many of the ads targeted topics where there is a deep division or poked at issues in a way designed to inflame. In almost every case, they used a favored technique of marketers, trial lawyers, and politicians alike -- FEAR. And that makes sense. Fear is a ten times greater motivator than hope of gain. That’s why marketers tell us that the one-time low pricing will end Sunday night, not how happy we will be on a new mattress. That’s why politicians tell us that immigrants should fear deportation if their opponent is elected, not that the melting pot is a good thing. And finally, of course, that’s how a specious argument that an everyday product causes cancer can overwhelm a defense based on good science. Fear wins, and good trial lawyers on both sides of the courtroom must use it. I wrote a lot about this topic in my five-part series about the Reptile Trial Strategy. It's no surprise that ads traced back to Russia focused on hot-button topics like Black Lives Matter, Muslims supporting Hillary Clinton, gun rights, LGBT rights, and more. Let's look at the techniques used in three Russia-linked ads: 1. Heart of Texas: This Facebook group that advocated for Texas secession quickly gained more than 250,000 members. The ad below uses a fake Facebook event as part of its messaging. What made a quarter of a million Texans unwittingly sign up for a Russian-backed Texas secessionist movement?  The ad works because it stokes existing biases while seemingly coming from a credible source. If we define bias broadly as any commonly held belief by a person that makes it harder for them to accept contrary evidence, you can see how this could work in the courtroom.  Obviously, we’re not talking about using racial, ethnic, or sexual preference biases as part of advocacy. Instead, I’m referring to those beliefs that many jurors show up to trial with -- like bankers are all motivated by greed, big energy companies don’t really care about the environment, or tech companies will ruthlessly steal from one another. Just as the Russians used biases in a deplorable manner, trial lawyers can play to other biases by encouraging jurors to accept and double down on their beliefs. As I wrote in a recent post, when you combine a credible source such as an expert witness with a message that jurors are ready to hear, you are likely to come out ahead. Consider how I embraced these biases and re-messaged these in a recent blog post about bias below. As you read each think about how you might couple each with persuasive visuals to maximize persuasion.  Bankers are greedy, so why would they ever do something that risked their money? (Possible visual storytelling aid to accompany: evidence of penny pinching at all levels of the organization summarized on a chart to demonstrate a culture of avarice) XYZ oil company has been more reckless with the environment than you or me, but given what they went through before, do you really think they are dumb enough to do it again? (Possible visual storytelling aid to accompany: list in a slowly scrolling chart the tangible consequences the organization faced as a result of the last disaster) Sure, tech companies will do anything to get ahead, but can you imagine anything more humiliating to someone as competitive as the CEO of ABC company as looking as if you’re not as smart as the other guy? Nothing is worth that when you are a competitive tech geek. (Possible visual storytelling aid to accompany: text callouts coupled with the CEO photo openly demeaning the intelligence of the opposition)

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We are delighted to announce the publication of a new free e-book, the Trial Lawyer’s Guide to Environmental, Toxic Tort, and Product Liability Litigation, 3rd Edition. It is a guide to all the issues and all the possibilities that can come up in environmental, toxic tort, and product liability litigation – whether related to PowerPoint, scientific expert witnesses, competing scientific theories, body language, or any of a myriad of questions that can come up in this complex field. This is the third edition of a book that we first released in 2011. We have dramatically expanded the scope and the depth of the book to add dozens of new and relevant articles, including articles on the importance of litigation graphics in toxic tort litigation and on demonstrative evidence in product liability and failure-to-warn cases. The book is now 256 pages long and packed with valuable articles. Environmental, toxic tort, and product liability cases have similar challenges. Each typically involves disputes over science and often results in a battle of expert witnesses. As a result, these cases are some of the hardest cases to litigate. These cases can include technical issues similar to patent cases, scientific elements similar to pharmaceutical cases, and damages issues similar to construction cases. In addition, for many jurors, these cases are fraught with political ramifications in a way that many other cases are not. Jurors often harbor a basic belief that if a big company is on trial, it has probably harmed people or the environment in pursuit of profits and has caused long-term damage to people and the planet – either by directly causing human health effects, polluting the air, water, or ground, or by contributing to global warming. It is important for a lawyer representing such a company to overcome jurors’ biases and to do so while keeping the case from seeming dull and boring. If you are to be successful litigating these cases, you have to be among the best in the profession. The natural complexity of these cases means that demonstrative evidence must be used extensively, jury consulting is often appropriate, and the use of trial technicians allows you to focus on maintaining your connection with the jury – rather than staying connected to the technology. This e-book will help you better prepare to litigate environmental, toxic tort, and product liability cases. From making the most of your mock trial, to managing trial team psychology, to specific demonstrative examples, there is something in here for all trial lawyers. I hope you enjoy this book and will take a moment to share some feedback by contacting me. If you ever have a question about how to prepare an environmental, toxic tort, or product liability case anywhere in the world, please ask. You may download the book by clicking this link or by clicking the download button below.

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Dr. Robert Cialdini has identified six basic principles of persuasion. One of them is liking. If people like you, they are more likely to say yes. Why is that important to a litigator? Quite simply, any litigator wants to persuade a jury, judge or other adjudicator to agree with her, and if the adjudicator likes her, she is more likely to win her case.  The key to getting someone to like you is to remember that it’s not just a momentary feeling but a sum of everything that the person thinks about you – and that the feeling is not permanent, but you can at any time do something to improve or to detract from the person’s feeling about you. As a litigator, you are always one misstep from losing the audience.  Here are ten things you can do as a litigator that will make you more likable: Focus on how you are perceived. In 2015 Jimmy Fallon put U2 in disguise and had them play at the 42nd subway stop in New York City. Even with cameras around, and the odd fact that the lead singer sounded just like Bono, they were largely ignored. Jimmy then framed the band (again in disguise) as a local band wanting support. Suddenly, once it was known they are U2, everyone went crazy. The most remarkable part was seeing an adolescent looking at them when in disguise as if he is waiting for a car crash, but the next time you see him, after the reveal, he is dancing and completely loving what he is hearing. They music did not change, just the framing. How you appear to your audience will set the stage for how they react and their willingness to give you the benefit of the doubt. See also, Like It or Not: Likability Counts for Credibility in the Courtroom. Ask questions. It is human nature to be helpful, and we all have the desire to share what we know. When someone appears to need our help, we tend to like them more because we are the ones providing answers. Just remember HOW you ask them is crucial.

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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

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During one college summer, I used to engage in aikido, a martial art. In retrospect, it was all a bit goofy, but I learned some good lessons from it. In particular, I learned about a technique common to many of the martial arts and to conflict in general. This is the idea that you can use someone's momentum against them. If they are running at you, you can move to the side and trip them -- and they will fall. This requires far less energy from you. Similarly, in the courtroom, while there is no physical contact (hopefully), there is certainly a direction and a momentum in the way factfinders arrive at conclusions.  We've written about the idea of confirmation bias before in articles like I’m Right, Right? 5 Ways to Manage Juror Bias and Font Matters - A Trial Graphics Consultant's Trick to Overcome Bias. It's a concept that I believe all trial lawyers must understand at least somewhat. In the courtroom, using the momentum of a juror’s beliefs to help further those beliefs is a master trial lawyer technique. A new study reveals just how important it is for high-level trial lawyers to understand this concept of persuasion. The study, reported in the open-access journal Computational Biology, confirms something that is a little sad. It turns out that most humans will continue believing something that they previously believed, even when presented with clear evidence to the contrary and even when it hurts us to continue believing it. It's a bit more nuanced than that, but this is the essence of it. In the courtroom, we regularly work with banks accused of fraud, companies that have allegedly polluted the environment, and tech companies accused of theft of trade secrets. Trial lawyers always have the temptation to simply try to straightforwardly show judges and juries evidence that clearly contradicts the beliefs that those factfinders arrived with. That only makes sense, right? After all, if someone says you put the pollution there and you didn't, you just tell them you didn't do it, bring evidence, and you're off the hook, right? Unfortunately, my experience and this study do not support that idea. All humans arrive with certain biases when they show up to trial – such as these:  Bankers are greedy.  Oil companies don't care about the environment.  Tech companies will do anything to win. All too often, trial counsel puts a lot of effort into trying to disprove these beliefs. Instead, consider the aikido move, step to the side, agree with the momentum, and use it to your advantage as follows: Bankers are greedy, so why would they ever do something that risked their money? XYZ oil company has been more reckless with the environment than you or I, but given what they went through before, do you really think they are dumb enough to do it again? Sure, tech companies will do anything to get ahead, but can you imagine anything more humiliating to someone as competitive as ABC company as looking as if you're not as smart as the other guy? Nothing is worth that when you are a competitive tech geek. In other words, find a way to accept that either your factfinders walked in with a certain bias or that your opponent will help them form a bias during opening statements – and then run with it. There’s no better way to test this approach than in a mock trial setting. That’s where you can learn to anticipate the biases and get ahead of them. Common sense, that new study, and several decades of litigation experience bear this out. Other free A2L articles and resources related to confirmation bias, the overwhelming power of the opening statement, and the power of effective storytelling in the courtroom include: When Smart Ain’t So Smart - Cognitive Bias, Experts and Jurors 7 Ways to Overcome Cognitive Bias and Persuade Still Think Persuasion is About Talking While Showing Bullet Points? 5 Essential Elements of Storytelling and Persuasion How Much Text on a PowerPoint Slide is Too Much? 5 Ways to Maximize Persuasion During Opening Statements - Part 4 Free A2L Consulting Webinar: Persuasive Storytelling for Litigation Good-Looking Graphic Design ≠ Good-Working Visual Persuasion I’m Right, Right? 5 Ways to Manage Juror Bias Persuasive Graphics: How Pictures Are Increasingly Influencing You 14 Places Your Colleagues are Using Persuasive Graphics That Maybe You're Not Font Matters - A Trial Graphics Consultant's Trick to Overcome Bias Why the President is Better than You at Creating Persuasive Graphics Law360 Interviews A2L Consulting's Founder/CEO Ken Lopez Are Jurors on Your “Team”? Using Group Membership to Influence Subscribe to this blog for free

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