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This article is the second in a series of four articles about courtroom storytelling (here is a link to part 1). My goal in this series is to reveal some of the tricks of the persuasive storytelling trade in one place for the busy trial lawyer. I hope that these recommendations can serve as a pretrial checklist for anyone who wants to draft an opening statement. A2L’s litigation consultants have published dozens of articles about storytelling, and we’ve released books and webinars on the subject. These ten tips represent the essence of what we have learned and of what we have taught. If you apply these ten suggestions when developing your story for trial, your story will be more persuasive, and you will radically increase your chances of winning your case. Tip #2. Charisma and likability matter. The best set of facts may not save a trial lawyer who is unattractive and poorly dressed. This isn’t fair or right, but it is a reality that science proves out. For these reasons and more, it is imperative to put your best foot forward. "Your job as a persuasive litigator is to understand the factors that can be used properly and ethically to be more likable and thus more persuasive. As your case becomes more complicated, jurors are more likely to seek shortcuts and give more weight to easier factors to understand, such as which attorney they like and which they don’t.  The less personally involved jurors are with evidence, such as information that is too dry or difficult, the more they tend to rely on peripheral cues rather than on an argument’s actual strength. Being liked is an important ingredient in the cocktail of peripheral cues jurors use to decide whom to believe." See, Like It or Not: Likability Counts for Credibility in the Courtroom

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Great trial lawyers are paid to tell stories for a living. Typically, one side’s recitation of a story is more persuasive than the other – even when both sides are drawing on the same set of facts. But why? Is it the charisma of the trial lawyer? Is it the way the story is told by both sides? Is it the deployment of superior litigation graphics by one side?  Well, it’s all these things – and more. Our litigation consulting firm is often engaged to help top trial lawyers tell their stories in the most persuasive way possible. We do this by applying the latest findings of persuasion science and sharing the wisdom that we inherit by routinely observing the world’s very best trial lawyers. This article is the first in a series of four articles. My goal in this series is to reveal some of the tricks of the persuasive storytelling trade in one place for the busy trial lawyer. I hope that these recommendations can serve as a pretrial checklist for anyone who wants to draft an opening statement. A2L’s litigation consultants have published dozens of articles about storytelling, and we’ve released books and webinars on the subject. These ten tips represent the essence of what we have learned and of what we have taught. If you apply these ten suggestions when developing your story for trial, your story will be more persuasive, and you will radically increase your chances of winning your case. Tip #1. There must be a story. You should present a story, and it should follow the basic guidelines of storytelling. That is, there should be a beginning, middle, and end, and there should be storylines and human characters that your factfinders care about. Research tells us that human beings automatically make stories out of virtually all life events to gain a sense of control, even if it’s a false sense. It’s the difference between collecting bare facts and interpreting them in a coherent manner. Most people can’t resist making assumptions, drawing inferences, and imposing upon the facts what they “mean” rather than merely accepting information as is. Most of what people discuss in their social lives are stories and gossip – not random facts. Since we know that your jury will be using a story to sort out your litigation facts in order to reach its results, whose story do you want the jurors using -- one they’ve made up, one provided by opposing counsel, or yours? If we now think about how one might tell a story in an opening statement, below is a model for telling such a persuasive story. This example comes from a trial that ultimately derived from the financial crisis of the last half of the decade of the 2000s, where the issue was whether a bank could be held liable to its shareholders for bad real estate investments that the bank made.  Introduction: I like to start with the statement of some fundamental truths and an introduction of the characters like, “Banks survive on greed - it's how they make money. When they make good loans, they make money. When they make bad loans, they lose money. These bankers are essentially being accused of making bad loans, which to be true would have to mean, they were not trying to make money. When is the last time you heard of bankers not trying to make money? It makes no sense.”

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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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Trial teams frequently wrestle with questions surrounding how simple a trial presentation should be. It’s a good thing to worry about. They worry about coming off as condescending. They worry about the story being impossible to simplify. They worry about what order to tell the story in. These are all understandable questions to wrestle with. Unfortunately, on the question of how simple a case should be made, I think most trial teams end up talking themselves out of the right answer. So here’s the answer in five parts.  A trial presentation should be so simple that: 

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If a director of a motion picture or a play loses his or her audience, the result will most likely be disastrous. The same is true for a trial lawyer. As a lawyer, if you lose your audience, you'll more than likely lose your case. And there are many ways to lose an audience. You might, for example: fail to use images to simplify a case sufficiently for a jury to understand it fail to engage the jury with effective teaching techniques alienate jurors by being unaware of local customs and lingo behave in an unlikable fashion read long passages to a jury, quickly losing the jury’s interest fail to develop a story that a jury can care about fail to use storytelling techniques at all fail to use or fail to defend against reptile trial strategies One other major way to lose an audience is to fail to develop characters that a jury will care about. If you don’t develop such characters, your jury will either not care about your side or will turn against your client from the start. Unfortunately, about half of all trial teams fail to properly develop the characters in their litigation story, and their cases suffer terribly for it. The excuses are numerous: from “We’re a big company, we don't have individual characters” to “Everyone on our side is perceived as bad.” These are just excuses. I can guarantee that 99.9 percent of the time, there will be characters that can be developed.

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