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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?

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The Top 10 Litigation Articles of 2018

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?

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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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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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I have the privilege of working on a regular basis with many of the top trial lawyers in the nation, and they are an impressive bunch. In addition to their knowledge of the law, their capacity for hard work, and their practiced trial skills, they tend to carry an unquantifiable charisma. The great trial lawyer is a person who, when he or she enters a room, knows how to command the room. And although they are not arrogant, they do know that they have that ability and that they can turn it on or off. This means that the great trial lawyers can develop an ineffable rapport with jurors, a connection that is hard to explain and remarkable to see in action. Trial consultants are well advised to leave well enough alone, to “do no harm” when that connection is clearly operational; their job then is to simply sit back and observe this meeting of the minds and hope it will carry them on to victory. But these top trial lawyers, who have developed great sensitivity to issues of rapport and communication, often voice a concern to me. The concern is that they may be using some PowerPoint slides, say to highlight the themes of an opening statement, and then they wish to move on to a point that is not on the slides. But the jurors, they point out, are still staring at that screen, and the personal connection, instantly made, will instantly be lost. Should the jurors be looking at the screen or continuing their focus on the lawyer? It must be noted that the great trial lawyer knows not to make his or her case strictly via PowerPoint and knows how important it is to limit the use of this seductive trial technique. Still, there is a place for PowerPoint at trial and thus a corresponding concern. The trial lawyers’ concern is, fortunately, overblown and easily remedied. The remarkably simple solution is to press the “B” key on the computer keyboard. In PowerPoint, this instantly makes the screen go black, thus removing all competition for the jurors’ attention. Just learn to switch fluidly back and forth, using that key. This will not only preserve the crucial emotional connection between lawyer and jury; it will also lay the groundwork for the lawyer to assume the role in the jurors’ minds of trusted counselor and friend, someone who can make sense of all the evidence and tell a convincing story that puts it all together. I wish all trial lawyers’ dilemmas were so easily resolved. Other A2L Consulting free resources related to PowerPoint, connecting with jurors, and what makes a great trial lawyer include: 10 Criteria that Define Great Trial Teams 16 PowerPoint Litigation Graphics You Won't Believe Are PowerPoint The 12 Worst PowerPoint Mistakes Litigators Make Like It or Not: Likability Counts for Credibility in the Courtroom How Many PowerPoint Slides Should You Use in a Typical Trial? The Redundancy Effect, PowerPoint and Legal Graphics 12 Things About PowerPoint You Probably Never Knew How to Make PowerPoint Trial Timelines Feel More Like a Long Document New Webinar - PowerPoint Litigation Graphics - Winning by Design Lawyer Delivers Excellent PowerPoint Presentation Why Reading Your Litigation PowerPoint Slides Hurts Jurors How Much Text on a PowerPoint Slide is Too Much? 12 Ways to Eliminate "But I Need Everything On That PowerPoint Slide" Do Professionally Designed PowerPoint Slides Get Better Results? 12 Reasons Bullet Points Are Bad (in Trial Graphics or Anywhere) 14 Tips for Delivering a Great Board Meeting Presentation 5 Things Every Jury Needs From You Jury Selection and Voir Dire: Don't Ask, Don't Know 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said Your Trial Presentation Must Answer: Why Are You Telling Me That?

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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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On this day sixty years ago, a 34-foot-tall Soviet rocket lifted off the Earth from a Cosmodrome in present-day Kazakhstan.  Its payload -- a shiny silver globe with four external antenna masts to broadcast a repeating radio chirp back to Earth.  The Soviets called it Prosteyshiy Sputnik 1 -- “Simple Satellite 1.” The world’s first successful orbiting satellite was tiny, just 22 inches in diameter and weighing 184 pounds.  But its “beep-beep -- beep-beep” signal was rebroadcast everywhere and easy to pick up directly by shortwave radio.  Sputnik could also be seen in orbit by the naked eye, the sun glinting off its polished shell.  In the moment a person first heard or saw Sputnik, they were catapulted into a new and different world.  For 21 days Sputnik circled our planet, captured our imaginations, reshaped American national priorities, and changed the order of our lives.  The Space Race began.  NASA opened for business one year later.  Within twelve years, Apollo 11 delivered two Americans to the Moon. Back to present-day Planet Earth.  You are a lawyer on a jury trial.  Opening statements begin tomorrow.  How will you capture the attention of your audience of jurors?  How will you get them to pay close attention, to focus on what matters most for your client?  Even the best storyteller struggles with this.  And to be honest, many trial presentations are, by their nature, not exactly heart-stopping.  Plan for that.  Find some element of the narrative that commands attention from the jurors, that challenges them to think deeply and to care genuinely about what is going on in that courtroom.  Capture the jurors’ attention in that opening statement, and you can have it again later, coming back to that moment when the story struggles to engage the listener.  Give jurors that moment they crave, that leaves them changed by something they just heard or saw.  Make jurors feel that the trial will make a difference in someone’s life, even in their own lives.  Mark the spot in the case that separates life “before” and life “after.”  Ask yourself, what is going to be your trial’s “Sputnik” moment? Other free A2L articles A2L and free webinars related to opening statements, storytelling, and being memorable at trial include: 6 Ways to Use a Mock Trial to Develop Your Opening Statement Free Download: Storytelling for Litigators E-Book 3rd Ed. 14 Differences Between a Theme and a Story in Litigation 25 Things In-House Counsel Should Insist Outside Litigation Counsel Do 5 Things TED Talks Can Teach Us About Opening Statements 7 Ways to Draft a Better Opening Statement 5 Ways to Maximize Persuasion During Opening Statements - Part 1 Why a litigator is your best litigation graphics consultant 6 Reasons The Opening Statement is The Most Important Part of a Case How to Structure Your Next Speech, Opening Statement or Presentation The Effective Use of PowerPoint Presentation During Opening Statement 5 Things Every Jury Needs From You Is Hiring a Jury Consultant Really Worth It? Free A2L Consulting Webinar: 5 Ways to Maximize Persuasion During Opening Statements — Watch Anytime 12 Insider Tips for Choosing a Jury Consultant

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