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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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At A2L, we are either conducting or actively planning a mock trial 365 days a year. As you probably know, mock trials are a tool that is very often used by serious trial teams involved in large trials to help uncover the ideal strategy to win a case. In a typical mock trial that we conduct, over 40 jurors will be recruited in the trial venue through a rigorous screening process. We even incorporate expected voir dire questions into the process. Based on individual verdicts and backgrounds, mock jurors are carefully evaluated to create three or four panels of 10 to 12 mock jurors. “Clopenings,” combined argumentative opening/closing statements, are presented for both sides of the case, litigation graphics are used to support these statements, and videotaped witness testimony may be included as part of the presentation. Typically, real-time data collection methods using an Audience Response System (“ARS”) will be used, similar to the approve vs. disapprove line graphs shown on the news during election seasons. Deliberations are conducted. A focus discussion following deliberations is facilitated by our jury consulting and litigation consulting team members. All proceedings are typically observed through one-way mirrors or via closed-circuit TV, as shown in the included image. Watching the deliberations is shocking for most trial lawyers. Without the constraints of the law or internal consistency, jurors’ responses can seem inconsistent, irrational, inexplicable and thus, frightening and random. They are not. Jurors rarely understand the cases as much as hoped, and they follow predictable behavior patterns (see 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said). While their rationale may not match the lawyers’, there is a rationale to those willing to understand it from the jurors’ perspective. Finally, data are collected from the jurors, the results from the deliberations are tallied, and an oral and written report is presented to the trial team. This report includes specific tactics, both rhetorical and visual, that should be used at trial. We have written and taught about best practices for mock trials extensively. Some of those articles and webinars include: The 5 Very Best Reasons to Conduct a Mock Trial 6 Good Reasons to Conduct a Mock Trial 6 Ways to Use a Mock Trial to Develop Your Opening Statement 5 Ways That a Mock Trial Informs and Shapes Voir Dire Questions 12 Astute Tips for Meaningful Mock Trials 11 Problems with Mock Trials and How to Avoid Them 7 Questions You Must Ask Your Mock Jury About Litigation Graphics 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said How Early-Stage Focus Groups Can Help Your Trial Preparation Webinar: 12 Things Every Mock Juror Ever Has Said - Watch Anytime Together, these resources provide an excellent manual for conducting a mock trial for an upcoming case. However, they don’t deeply address a trial team behavior I’ve seen show up in just about every mock trial our firm has conducted: The lawyers try to win – and I don’t mean fairly.

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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

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At A2L, we work on many disputes and trials of various types and sizes. Before starting work, we routinely provide our customers with estimates of what we think it will cost to engage us to conduct a mock trial, prepare trial presentations, assist in the development of the opening statement, and run the courtroom technology.   While it’s never easy to estimate the final costs of fast-moving complex litigation, it's something that firms like ours and large law firms do every day. We've been doing it for 24 years, and we've even pioneered some innovative pricing strategies for litigation graphics and trial tech work. However, I've noticed two schools of thought when it comes to estimating, and one of them seems to lead to better outcomes.   In shorthand, I'll call these two methods a top-down method and a bottom-up method. In my experience, the top-down method leads to more successful engagements, more wins, and much better and trusting relationships.  

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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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