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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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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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The trial technician, sometimes called the hot-seater, is the person who runs the courtroom technology so that a trial team does not have to do so. A trial tech typically uses programs like Trial Director to manage thousands of exhibits and has each at the ready to be displayed and highlighted. During opening, closing, and expert testimony, the trial tech runs the PowerPoint system to ensure flawless and well-choreographed presentations. The benefit of using a trial technician is that the trial team can focus on the law and the facts and can concentrate on connecting with the judge and jury rather than having to worry about the technology. When the relationship between trial counsel and the trial tech is smooth and well-rehearsed, the presentation looks like a perfectly planned and executed professional live production. We have been deploying trial technicians around the country for trials long and short for the past three decades. We were even sending out trial techs before PowerPoint was being used in the courtroom and when the preferred format for electronic evidence handling was the laser disk. In this time, we have employed dozens of trial techs and have learned what makes a good one and what kind of preparation equals success. Here are 12 tips for finding just the right technician: 1. Experience is everything. Our techs usually have a dozen or more major trials under their belts. Some have been to trial hundreds of times. They also routinely run the technology at hearings and during arbitrations/mediations. See, With So Few Trials, Where Do You Find Trial Experience Now? 2. The first-chair attorney must be willing to practice with them. There is no substitute for practice and preparation in the courtroom. The great trial lawyers practice frequently so that the trial looks flawless. See Practice, Say Jury Consultants, is Why Movie Lawyers Perform So Well. 3. They have war stories galore - particularly in overcoming problems. Courtrooms are not usually state of the art, so much of the technology must be brought in or enhanced. Otherwise, jurors are left wondering why their own living rooms and work conference rooms are much more advanced than what your trial team is providing. Great trial techs have overcome hundreds of small issues in a trial. See 12 Ways to Avoid a Trial Technology Superbowl-style Courtroom Blackout.

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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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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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3 Types of Litigation Graphics Consultants

As you might expect, I think about the litigation graphics industry a good deal. It’s a fairly new industry, and it is undergoing constant change. The way I think about it, the industry is actually fairly small. There are perhaps three other serious national players that I would be mildly comfortable recommending when A2L is conflicted out of a case. Still, though, these firms are quite different from A2L, so a trial lawyer should expect an entirely different experience as a customer than with A2L. Most of our competition now uses the term “litigation consultant” that we first started using in the mid-1990s. In fact, we may have been the first to use it the term. However, this term means vastly different things from firm to firm.  At A2L, we use the term litigation consultant primarily to refer to attorneys on our staff with a creative expertise, trial experience, and an understanding of persuasion science who interface with trial teams to help: develop the visual presentation develop themes, narratives, and strategies for the opening statement work with our jury consultants to help test cases As one can readily discern, these people are truly trusted advisors. They add value as opposed to taking orders.

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by Tony Klapper Managing Director, Litigation Consulting A2L Consulting War rooms at trial are very intense, high-pressure places. Obviously, the lawyers in the trial team are going to make the war room their “office” for the duration of the trial, as will other team members such as paralegals and consultants. Here are five reasons why a trial team should always consider having a graphic artist on site, right beside the attorneys. If an artist is not there, side by side with the lawyers, the team will lose a certain amount of flexibility and responsiveness. If a lawyer wants a visual to be slightly modified, based on testimony that’s just now being heard, there’s nothing like having someone by her side to share thoughts with. The response can be immediate and in real time. Communication between the lawyer and the litigation graphics artist is much easier to achieve. If the artist is not there, miscommunications can creep in like a child’s game of “telephone.” A lawyer can show an artist on site exactly what she means because the artist is able to see and hear the lawyer, not just read an email or listen on the phone. 

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