I know it seems like you are doing an endless number of things both before trial and during.
But when it comes to communication, you're really only doing three things.
Teaching, storytelling and dealing with resistance.
Teaching is where you impart information. You teach throughout trial. For example, if your case involves angiograms, you begin your teaching in voir dire by asking jurors about their familiarity with specific medical terms in your case.
"Who here has any familiarity with angiograms?"
"Was your father's angiogram that you just mentioned diagnostic (performed to diagnose a problem) or interventional (performed to fix a medical issue)?" Etc.
You teach in opening when you tell the jury what angiograms are and how they're used.
"An angiogram is where the doctor punctures the femoral artery..."
"There are two types of angiograms. Diagnostic and interventional. Diagnostic angiograms are performed when..." Etc.
But you also teach in closing when you show the jury how to fill out the verdict form and clarify what the legal terms mean.
And during trial? Your expert witnesses teach on the stand.
You begin storytelling in voir dire by listening to the juror's stories and experiences. You continue storytelling by telling two stories in opening: the story of how the defendant caused the harm, and the story of the effect of that harm on the plaintiff.
But you also tell a story in closing; the story of the plaintiff, projected into the future, where they received no help from the jury.
And during trial? Your lay witnesses tell stories on the stand.
Deal with Resistance
You deal with resistance in voir dire by discussing the very things that are detrimental to your case.
You deal with resistance in opening when you undermine the defense arguments. And in closing you deal with resistance when you teach the jury how to deal with resistance from fellow jurors in the verdict room.
And in trial? You deal with resistance when you conduct your cross exam of the defense's witnesses.
Why is This Important?
It's important to understand the three things you're doing at trial for two main reasons:
First, it helps simplify things. If you know you're teaching, storytelling or dealing with resistance, you can organize your content that way so that it all comes together at the various points at trial.
Second, it informs what body language you should use. Teaching requires you adhere to presentation rules: proper stance, gestures, visuals, etc. When you're storytelling, however, you throw those rules out. Now you can and should "act." Bring the characters to life.
And when you deal with resistance? Adopt the same tone of voice jurors might use should they vocalize their thoughts out loud. "Shouldn't he have told someone?" they might be thinking in a sex abuse case. So say it, just like they'd think it, with proper inflection. This creates a connection between you and the jurors.
Trial can be overwhelming. Simplify your communication by focusing on these three things.
If you've conducted a voir dire that gets jurors interested in the principles in your case, then your jury should be eagerly anticipating your opening to learn more.
Don't blow this chance to inform and inspire jurors by making these three mistakes:
Too Long. Most opening statements are too long.
When your opening is too long, jurors get bored. Opening should be a preview of the evidence and jurors should be left wanting more after you're done. In addition, you want to "hum the tune" of your trial theme in opening so that as the other players (witnesses) sing that tune throughout trial (badly, and often out of tune), jurors remember the original. When you're opening is too long, jurors forget the original song and you start to lose them.
Too Complex. Most opening statements are too complex.
When your opening is too complex, jurors get confused. Names, dates, medical terms the jurors don't understand, stories out of order, tons of visuals...all of these things add to a juror's confusion. When jurors get confused, they go inside to try and figure it out, which means they stop listening to you. If they do figure it out, they'll miss the last few minutes of content you delivered, and if they don't figure it out, they feel stupid.
Too Legal. Most opening statements are too legal.
When your opening is too legal, jurors don't care. And I'm not just talking about legalese either. I'm talking about words like "vehicle" instead of "car." Or "collision" instead of "crash." When you use this type of language no matter how "off code" you're trying to be, you clearly communicate to jurors, "I am a lawyer."
Instead, create an opening that is short, simple and sane.
Short. Condense your opening as much as possible. Short openings communicate, "this is a very simple case that can be decided easily." If you need a 2-hour opening, fine, but really make sure that's the case first.
Simple. Clarify terms for jurors. Remove names and dates. Use the lowest number of visuals you can get away with. Make it easy on jurors to follow along.
Sane. Clean up your language. Use "car," "crash" and other non-lawyer words. Talk like jurors talk.
When you make your opening short, simple and sane, you communicate to the jurors that you have confidence in your case. Half of what you throw into your opening you don't need. So ditch it. Jurors don't commit to content; they commit to people. So make sure your content isn't getting in the way of your connection to jurors.
Give this podcast a listen to learn more.
Only seven, you ask?
I know you aren't trying to annoy jurors, (at least I hope not) but there are certain things that you may be doing that are out of your awareness. Let's look at what they are.
#1: Using the hobby question. You want to "warm jurors up." I get it. But asking about hobbies makes light of the situation. No juror wakes up to a jury summons in the mail and thinks, "Ooh goodie! I can't wait to go have a relationship with Mr. or Ms. Attorney!" Avoid this question, at least at the beginning. Jurors are hungry for information, so give it to them.
#2: Telling jurors how important they are. Look, jurors are important, but they sure don't feel important. They've been forced to come to court, shoved in a room and told to wait, corralled into the courtroom and told where to sit, and branded with a plastic sticker that reads: JUROR, telling other people to avoid them! Is it any wonder they roll their eyes when you stand up in front of them and tell them how important they are? Instead, show them. Listen to them. Which brings us to #3...
#3: Not listening. You tell jurors how important they are and that you want to hear from them, then as they speak you dart your eyes around the box, look at your watch or cut them off. Huh? Stop it. Listen to jurors. Intently and with focus. This is what shows them how important they are.
#4: Gimmicks. It's so tempting to try a gimmick you picked up at a seminar, but I implore you to reconsider. Jurors are on high alert for manipulation of any kind. Drop the gimmicks and back away slowly. You don't need them! You just need to show up authentically and let the jury see who you really are. That's it.
#5: Rewording what jurors say. In an attempt to practice "reflective listening" many of you, instead of repeating back what jurors say, reword what they said. This feels manipulative to jurors. If you want to clarify an answer, ask questions instead of rewording.
#6: Making jurors feel stupid. You inadvertently make jurors feel stupid in two ways: 1) you use terms the juror doesn't understand and 2) you ask "should" questions. Should questions are questions like, "What should the doctor have done?" If a juror doesn't know, uh oh. Instead use, "What were your expectations of the doctor?" And of course, always clarify terms before throwing them around so jurors can easily follow the discussion.
#7: Dumb explanations of bias or the jury selection process. Please avoid talking to jurors like they're in 3rd grade and don't understand bias. Instead, tell them about the principles in the case and discuss those principles. That's where you'll find bias, not by lecturing about it ahead of time.
You don't need to do any of the things above to win the hearts and minds of jurors. You just need you. Really.
Give this podcast a listen to learn more.
Last week we discussed the first thing you can read: permission.
Today let's look at the second thing you can read: what mode jurors are in.
Every single communication situation tends to fall into one of two buckets: Issue & Relationship.
You're either tending to the relationship or dealing with an issue when conversing with someone.
Likewise, people tend to be in issue or relationship mode, depending on the circumstance. You can read this nonverbally.
Issue-oriented communication looks like this:
Relationship-oriented communication looks like this:
We like the relationship-oriented jurors, don't we? They smile and nod and make us feel good. But the issue-oriented jurors are scary, aren't they? They stare and cross their arms and make us feel bad.
Stop making up stories.
Issue-oriented jurors are interested in logistics. "What's this about? Is it worth my time?" It doesn't mean they disagree with you.
Relationship-oriented jurors are simply being polite by nodding and smiling. It doesn't mean they agree with you.
Here is what this body language actually means:
Issue-oriented jurors are motivated by facts, evidence and logic.
Relationship oriented jurors are motivated by emotion, stories and the human element.
This means that if you have a primarily relationship-oriented jury, you need to use more relationship-oriented body language and tell more stories and use more emotion.
Conversely, if you have a primarily issue-oriented jury, use more issue-oriented body language and focus on facts and logic.
Stop trying to memorize hundreds of nonverbal cues and just focus on reading permission and what mode your jurors are in. This will allow you to focus on the job at hand instead of being distracted by irrelevant details.
In order to be truly great, you have to be willing to fail.
But failure doesn't help you learn if all you do is beat yourself up when you make a mistake.
If you want to take your communication to the next level, you have to stop wasting your mistakes.
What does wasting your mistakes mean?
You're going to make mistakes, so why not use them to your advantage?
Here are some steps you can take to help you learn from your mistakes instead of throwing away the opportunity you have to learn:
Use your mistakes to your advantage. Start really digging in when you make a mistake and use it as an opportunity to learn. Failing for failure's sake is a waste of time. Failing your way to greatness is possible when you learn from your mistakes.
Give this podcast a listen to learn more.
If you've never said to your kid, "You LOOK at me when I'm talking to you!" are you even a parent?
Most parents have, at one time or another, said this to their kid. (Especially if said kid is/was a teenager.) And that's because we think it's disrespectful to not make eye contact.
When parenting, this is often true.
The problem is, it's not true across the board.
Eye contact does not equal respect. But thinking it does causes all sorts of problems.
For example, if you believe that you should always make eye contact, this will cause you to:
Here's the deal: eye contact does not equal respect, it equals engagement. Which means you need to look at whatever you want (or want jurors) to engage with.
For example, if you are using visuals during your opening statement, I assume you want jurors to look at them. If so, you need to look at them too. Telling jurors to look at your visual while you maintain eye contact confuses them. You say "look up here" but if you maintain eye contact you nonverbally communicate, "keep looking at me." If you want jurors to engage with the visual, you have to engage with it too.
When you're objected to, look at opposing counsel. This will force the jurors to look there too because people follow our eyes. (Don't believe me? Go to coffee with someone and look over their shoulder as you sit across from each other. It will be near impossible for them not to turn around to see what you're looking at.) When you look at opposing counsel, jurors will associate the objection with them ("why are you interrupting?") versus you ("did you say something wrong?")
When you need to move in the courtroom, break eye contact. It's ok, I promise! It's much weirder to sashay to where you're going than to merely break eye contact and walk normally.
You've been told that eye contact is the holy grail of connection. It isn't. It's merely one way to connect with jurors. But if you insist on making eye contact at every possible moment you not only risk totally weirding the jurors out, you miss out on opportunities to systematically use eye contact to your advantage.
Click here to listen to my podcast on eye contact.
Several years ago, Bill Barton agreed to speak at our Power of Presence event. During his talk, he said that he had “learned not to take the losses personally.”
A few weeks later, David Sugerman, an attorney based here in Portland, and I had lunch. David just won a 420-million-dollar verdict against BP. He had attended the Power of Presence seminar where Bill had spoken.
As we discussed his recent win and Bill’s remarks on losing, David said, “I too, have learned how to not take the losses personally. But what I think is even more important is to not take the wins personally either.”
Bill, David and other great attorneys know that there’s little rhyme or reason to why you win or lose at trial. They know that there will be times they’ll lose cases they should have won, and win cases they should have lost. Therefore, they don’t take any of it personally. They just do their best and let the chips fall where they may.
Praising yourself for your brilliant lawyering when you win and beating yourself up when you lose makes absolutely no sense. You cannot base how “good” you are on your win/loss record.
Redefine what success means. Are you there to win or to fight? If you’re there to win, well good luck with that. You cannot control whether that happens or not. But if you’re there to fight? THAT you can always be successful at.
We’re in this to win.
The problem is, you can’t control whether you win or not.
And although I think you know this, I don’t think you accept it.
I see so many attorneys desperately attached to winning at trial that when they lose...it knocks them off their game.
When I was wrestling with an issue in my life years ago, my coach told me something I’ll never forget. She said, “The goal is to be 100% committed and 100% unattached.” It’s ok to want to win. But you need to detach from whether it happens or not.
Let go of the idea that winning is the only acceptable outcome. Instead, focus your energy on doing the best job possible and you might just find that winning takes care of itself.
Last week we looked at one of the limiting beliefs so many of you hold: there is a right way to do this. (This, meaning trial.)
Today’s limiting belief is similar but not quite the same. And that’s the belief that you have to be like [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here] to win cases.
It’s soooo tempting to see the “greats” and attempt to mimic their style, thinking that they’ve somehow figured out the way to win, and if you mimic what they’re doing you can win too.
Here’s the mind-blowing truth: the reasons the “greats” are great is because they’ve learned how to let go of their limiting beliefs and just show up as their real-deal selves.
Want to know what Gerry Spence is better at than anyone else on the planet? Being Gerry Spence.
Yes, you need to have command of the law and be well versed in various trial methods and techniques. I’m not suggesting that “authenticity” is all you need at trial. But so many of you believe that if you just had [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here]’s style, personality, dare I use the word…charisma…THEN you’d have it made in the shade.
You don’t need to be anyone but yourself. Working with as many of you as I do, I cringe as I watch you attempt to scrub yourself clean of any perceived faults all while bending yourself into a pretzel in an attempt to show up like [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here].
Stop. Stop the madness.
YOU ARE ENOUGH. Not only are you enough, when you attempt to be like [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here] you overlook your most powerful weapon at trial: your uniqueness.
Trial is a battle over credibility. The most credible person wins. What is the foundation of credibility? Authenticity. Show up like you. Yes, keep learning and practicing. But stop believing that you have to be like [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here] to win. You don’t. You just need to be you.
Jurors are hostages, but so are you. You are a hostage of fear.
In order to conquer your fear, we need to look at some limiting beliefs that are getting in your way. Today we’re looking at a limiting belief I find SO many trial attorneys hold:
There’s a right way to do this. (This, meaning trial.)
Not a day goes by that I don’t get an email of some sort or another claiming that THEIR method is the key to winning at trial.
I see the same thing in my private work with clients: there’s always some new method clients want to use whether that’s Nick Rowley’s brutal honesty or Keith Mitnik’s Don’t Eat the Bruises or whatever else has just hit the market.
There’s nothing wrong with trying new things at trial. There’s a lot of great stuff out there that’s geared toward helping you increase your skill as a trial attorney. Taking advantage of these things isn’t the problem. The problem is the belief that there is a formula out that will teach you the ONE RIGHT WAY TO DO THIS.
Uh oh. Here comes the bad news.
It doesn’t exist.
And believing it does causes all sorts of problems.
First and foremost, it causes you stress, in addition to costing you money and time.
But more importantly, believing there is a formula trains your instincts out of you. Instincts are felt in the body, not the brain. Yes, those messages are sent to the brain from the body, allowing you the choice of whether or not to take action on those instincts, but instincts occur in the body.
Yet most trial attorneys view their body as a way to just carry their heads around. You’re not tuned into all the body wisdom because you’re so focused on all the “formulas” floating around out there instead of dipping into the wisdom you already possess.
Trial work is hard. Formulas are easy. They promise an easy fix. In addition, they give you a way out: if you fail, you can blame the method, right? It’s the method’s fault, that’s all. So then the search begins anew for the next best thing allowing you to bypass the truly hard work that trial demands: working on yourself.
Here’s what’s missing: MASTERY.
Most trial attorneys flit from one thing to another, try a method, then drop it. Then they move onto the next thing.
It takes work and practice to master a skill. You have limited time, energy and money. Instead of sampling from the buffet of choices, why not decide, once and for all, that there is no right way to do this and focus on mastering whatever it is you’re learning?
Drop the reliance on formulas. Stop chasing the shiny new thing. Focus on becoming the best you possible and mastering the skills needed along the way. This is how you’ll begin to grow your confidence and let go of your fear.
Today we're looking at the last P in the Five P’s model: Prove Fairness. If you've been following the blog, we've been exploring the SCARF Model from David Rock, author of Your Brain At Work.
The SCARF model states that there are five social needs that when threatened can activate the survival instinct in the brain. Those needs are: Status, Certainty, Relatedness, Autonomy and Fairness. Today let’s look at how jury selection threatens a juror’s sense of fairness, and how you can prove the process is fair and reverse the brain attack jury selection creates.
To most jurors, getting a jury summons in the mail feels unfair.
The concept of fairness is something we throw around quite a bit in trial, isn't it? We talk a lot about fairness. We want to find jurors that will be fair. And yet the number one thing that jurors think while sitting in the jury box is, "This is so unfair."
But what do we ask jurors?
"Can you be fair?"
Upon hearing this, most jurors think, “This entire thing is unfair! Why should I give you fairness when you're not giving it to me?"
Realistically, being called to jury duty isn’t unfair, not really. Most eligible Americans will probably be called to jury selection at some point in their lives. But on this day, to this juror, it sure feels unfair.
In addition to feeling as though it’s unfair to have to show up for jury selection, most jurors also feel the process is unfair. Read any of the online comments on lawsuits in the media, and you'll see that most jurors think the whole process is rigged. That your plaintiff is just trying to “win the lottery.”
There are three things that you can do to prove fairness to jurors.
The first thing? Drop the gimmicks. It is so tempting to try to use some gimmick that you picked up at a CLE, or read about in a book, but jurors can spot a “technique” a mile away.
I've said many times that the best thing in the world is to watch a Gerry Spence voir dire. The worst thing? Watching someone else attempt a Gerry Spence voir dire. Listen, the reason these things work—if they work at all—is because the technique is authentic to the creator. The creator figured out who they are, and they show up that way to the jury. That's what works, not the gimmick or technique.
Which brings me to the second thing: you've got to show up authentically to the jury. This is hard. Standing in front of a hostile group of people causes you to instinctively close up and protect yourself. I’m asking you to do the opposite. And as much as you might want to fight this, it’s what is required in this job.
You have to show up authentically before the jurors can. You have to go first. It's unfair to ask the jurors to do something that you yourself are unwilling to do. You have to show them the way.
Think about it. It’s like saying, "Hey, can you talk to me? Can you tell me all your secret thoughts and feelings? Can you tell me—and all of these other strangers—some crazy things that have happened in your life? Now I'm not willing to be that open with you. Nope, I'm not willing to stand up in front of you and show you all of my warts and weirdness. No, I'm going to show up as a shiny, polished attorney that makes no mistakes and does everything perfectly."
It’s total bullshit.
You show jurors that this process is fair when you stand there, take off your—imaginary, I hope—bulletproof vest and get shot if you have to, proving you believe so strongly in this job, this case, and this client.
Finally, meet the jurors where they are.
The number one thought on any juror’s mind is: "Why am I here and what do I have to do?"
Every single communication situation involves dealing with an issue or tending to the relationship.
Jurors start in the issue bucket. They are not there to have a relationship with you. No juror in their right mind wakes up the morning of jury selection and says, "You know what? I can't wait to get to the courtroom to have a relationship with Mr. or Mrs. Attorney!" They think, "Where do I go? What do I have to do? How long do I have to stay? What is this about?”
Meet jurors where they are. Get to the issue! Which means you don't make jokes and give lame explanations about what bias is, and all the things that you’ve been taught to do to try and "create rapport.” You quit all that shit and get to the point instead; honoring the jurors time and giving them what they need most: to understand why they are here and what they are being asked to do.
When you do that, you prove that you’re playing fair and that maybe jurors should give this process a chance. By showing up as your real deal self, you teach the jurors to do the same. And that my friends, is everything, because active, involved juries are what drive up verdicts.
Jurors are hostages.
To reverse the threat jury selection creates we’ve been looking at the Five ‘P’s’:
Today let’s look at how to Promote Relatedness.
Years ago, I traveled to Wisconsin to help an attorney pick a jury for a medical malpractice case. Voir dire began on Monday, so the attorney arranged for a mock jury on Sunday for practice. The jury was scheduled to arrive at 1:30 p.m. He also scheduled a lunch meeting with the plaintiff at noon. Unfortunately, the restaurant screwed up our order and we ended up being over an hour late for the mock jury. When we walked into the church where the mock jury had assembled, the attorney was shocked. Even though this group had sat together for over an hour waiting for our arrival, the room was completely silent. No one spoke or made eye contact. The air was thick with tension.
This is what you face in the courtroom, isn’t it?
Jurors don’t know you, defense counsel, the judge or each other. The brain views lack of relatedness as an attack.
The number one thing you can do in voir dire to tap into the reward center of a juror’s brain is to form the group. Groups are the most powerful organisms on earth; we want to form a group not just to promote relatedness between jurors, but to also make it easier to get a verdict in our favor.
Many people think that time is what gets groups to form; that by simply being together the group will form and bond, but this is not the case. Time alone doesn’t form groups. You do.
Group formation benefits both jurors and you in a variety of ways:
So how do you form a group?
Groups are primarily formed nonverbally. There are four nonverbal areas you can utilize for group formation: Eyes, Voice, Body and Breathing. To get a group to form you must get them to:
Think of the last cocktail party or networking event you attended. You most likely avoided making eye contact with people you didn’t know. However, once the host introduced you to someone else, you now made eye contact. The introduction gave you permission to look at each other.
This is what you have to do with jurors during voir dire.
Here’s how: once a juror is finished speaking, hold your hand out to him or her and then gesture and look at another juror and ask, “Is what you’re saying any different than [Name of Second Juror]?” It is very important that you look at the second juror, not the first. We are trained to maintain eye contact with the person who is speaking. Merely gesturing to another person while holding eye contact with the first won’t make them look there. However, people look where you look. If you look at the second person while asking the question of the first person, there is an 80% chance the first juror will turn and look at the juror you are looking at.
By doing this, you have now given these two jurors permission to look and talk to each other. Continue to do this with as many jurors as possible and your group will start to form.
You can also form your group by getting jurors to do things together. Simple things like having everyone raise their hand at the same time help the group to form. Why? When people do things together, they feel like a group. Why does the military have soldiers march? To form the group. Why do we sing the national anthem before sporting events? To form the group.
Finally, you help form the group by getting them to breathe. We know the jurors are in fight or flight because jury selection invokes a threat response. You can reverse the fight or flight response by breathing deeply yourself. Breathing together as a group helps them form.
Want to help jurors move from hostage to hero? Preserve their status. Provide them with certainty. Protect their autonomy. Promote Relatedness. Next time we’ll talk about the fifth and final P: Prove Fairness.
In the last several blogs I’ve talked about the concept of juror as hostage. I introduced you to the S-C-A-R-F model from David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, and the five social needs that when threatened, can activate the survival instinct in the brain. Those needs are: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.
We’ve been moving through the Five ‘P’s’ that will help us reverse the threat jury selection creates, those P’s being:
We tackled Provide Certainty in the last blog, so in today’s blog, let’s move onto Protect Autonomy.
This is the big one, isn’t it? Jury selection threatens a juror’s status by making them speak in front of a group of strangers, and yes, jurors have the least amount of information in the room which threatens certainty, but lack of autonomy is the big threat to jurors. It’s what makes them hostages!
Autonomy can be defined as freedom from external control or influence. We all want to feel like we can make our own decisions, decide our own schedules and operate with basic freedom in the world. When autonomy is threatened, however, we feel incredibly unsafe.
Even though jury selection doesn’t actually threaten jurors physically, it still activates their threat response. Think about it: why are most jurors hostile? Because they are being forced to participate! They don’t have a choice.
How can you reverse the threat jury selection causes and protect a juror’s autonomy? Here are a few tips:
When you begin voir dire, start by acknowledging resistance. People who communicate what others are thinking are perceived as more intelligent and credible. Simply start with, “Thank you for being here. I know you didn’t have much of a choice.” But don’t stop there. Continue by pointing out that they did exercise some autonomy, however, by showing up. “Even though obeying a jury summons is required, many people chose to ignore that summons and not show up today. I appreciate all of you for making the choice to come here today and participate in jury selection.”
These few sentences do two powerful things: 1) they communicate to jurors that you understand they are, for the most part, there against their will, but 2) they could have chosen not to come at all and therefore are still autonomous beings who can make their own choices.
So often attorneys attempt to do the first — acknowledge resistance — without doing the second — pointing out that jurors did in fact decide to come. If we acknowledge that jurors are there against their will and leave it at that, we haven’t done anything to protect the juror’s autonomy. It’s extremely important to acknowledge not only resistance, but that jurors are still autonomous beings that can make their own decisions.
Now, a caveat: Avoid making a big deal about how powerful jurors are in an attempt to compensate for the absence of autonomy until later in trial. As I mentioned before, jurors are the most powerful people in the room because they get to decide the case. However, pointing this out too early in the process can seem like manipulation; it’s best to wait until the group is formed before reminding them of their immense power.
But the biggest thing you can do to protect a juror’s autonomy is actually give them a choice.
Instead of asking about their hobbies, describe the mission. Tell them what they’re going to have to do. Get them talking about the principles in the case so they understand what’s at stake. Then ask them if they want to participate. When you get their buy in early, you’ll see that jurors begin to willingly give up their autonomy to join your cause. But you can’t get buy in until and unless jurors understand why they are there and what they have to do.
Want to help jurors move from hostage to hero? Preserve their status. Provide them with certainty. Protect their autonomy. Next time we’ll talk about the fourth P: Promote Relatedness.
In the last two blogs I’ve talked about the concept of juror as hostage. I’ve talked about the S-C
-A-R-F model from David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, and the five social needs that when threatened, can activate the survival instinct in the brain. Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. A decrease in status, a lack of certainty, a removal of autonomy, an absence of relatedness and the perception that something or someone is unfair are all perceived as threats by the brain.
In the last blog I I introduced you to the Five ‘P’s’ that will help you reverse the threat jury selection creates:
We tackled Preserve Status in the last blog, so in today’s blog, let’s move onto “Provide Certainty.”
Lack of certainty activates the survival response. Our brains are wired to view unfamiliar people and places with suspicion. If we don’t know what’s going on it feels unsafe. Until we can determine that something isn’t threatening, we assume that it is.
Jurors have little to no certainty when it comes to jury selection. Lack of certainty begins the moment a prospective juror receives a summons in the mail. “What kind of case will I be sitting on? How long will it take? When will I know if I have to be a juror?”
Once the day of jury selection comes the uncertainty continues. “What should I wear? Where is the courthouse? Is there parking?”
Once the prospective juror finds his or her way to the courthouse there’s even more uncertainty. “Which line do I stand in? Do I have to take my shoes off like at the airport when I go through security? What room do I go to?”
But once jurors get to the right place are they awarded with certainty? Nope. Now the waiting game begins. “How long do I have to wait here? What are we waiting for? When is lunch?”
When the jurors finally make it into the courtroom, they’re still not given any certainty. Now there are new people and new places to sit and an intimidating judge watching over the entire process.
The number one thing jurors need at this point is certainty. But do you, the attorney, provide it?
Most attorneys attempt to “break the ice” by asking about a juror’s hobbies or passions or what books they’ve read lately.
This is the absolute opposite of what you should do. Here’s why:
Almost every communication situation tends to fall into one of two buckets: relationship or issue. Most attorneys strive to create a relationship in voir dire; they want jurors to like and trust them. But jurors have no desire to have a relationship with you. Remember, most jurors don’t want to be there at all. Attempting to create a relationship with jurors at the beginning of voir dire doesn’t work because jurors begin the process in issue mode. If you truly want a relationship with jurors, you have start with issue-oriented communication.
Permission can be defined as how receptive people are to you and your message. Meeting people where they are is the number one way to increase permission. Gaining a juror’s permission is the true goal of voir dire, not trust. There simply isn’t enough time to gain a juror’s trust in voir dire and attempting to do so can backfire.
So how do you increase permission and meet jurors where they are? Get to the point.
Jurors are expecting the entire song and dance of lame jokes, being talking down to, (does anyone really need an explanation of what bias is?) and attempts to get them to like you. When you refuse to do this and get to the point, not only does permission go up, but so does your credibility. You’re not what they were expecting. By getting directly to the point you communicate that you take this process seriously; and by doing so you teach them to take it seriously too.
What does it mean to “get to the point?” Tell jurors why they’re there. Tell them what the case
is about. No, don’t give details you can’t give, but tell them what types of issues they’ll have to
wrestle with and what’s at stake. Involve them in the process. Right from the beginning. When
you do this you communicate that you take them seriously and honor their time.
Preserve a juror’s status. Provide them with certainty. Next time we’ll talk about the third P: Protect a juror’s autonomy.
Last week I talked about the concept of juror as hostage. I introduced the S-C-A-R-F model from David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work.
David has identified five social needs that when threatened, can activate the survival instinct in the brain. He organized these needs into what he calls the SCARF Model. S stands for Status, C for Certainty, A for Autonomy, R for Relatedness and F for Fairness. A decrease in status, a lack of certainty, a removal of autonomy, an absence of relatedness and the perception that something or someone is unfair are all perceived as threats by the brain.
If jury selection threatens jurors in these five areas, how can you tap into the reward center of the juror’s brain, and reverse the threat that jury selection creates?
Allow me to introduce you to the Five ‘P’s’. Because Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness are all under attack during jury selection, you must:
Today let’s focus on the first P: Preserve Status.
Status is defined as rank or position. Quest for status can be seen across several species; from humans to animals, status is something organisms recognize and strive toward.
We’re hardwired to care about status. Receiving admiration and approval from others is something we all crave.
But how does this apply to jury selection? In any situation where a group of strangers are assembled, no one knows the “pecking order.” Who’s the leader? What is my “rank?” How am I being perceived?
This “not knowing” can cause tremendous stress, and stress does not have a positive effect on decision making, the one thing you need jurors to do and do well.
In addition, not only do jurors not know their ranking in the group, but the very process itself has the ability to threaten whatever status is up for grabs.
Think about it: You put jurors on the spot and ask them to share their most personal thoughts, feelings and experiences in front of total strangers. This threatens status.
In order to tap into the reward center of a juror’s brain, you need to preserve a juror’s status. The first step is to address the power imbalance.
Jurors are the most powerful people in the courtroom. They decide the case! The problem is, they don’t feel powerful, especially at first. This is due to lack of information.
You, opposing counsel, and the judge all know more about the case than jurors do. And yet, you ask jurors questions, questions that relate directly to the case, expecting them to share their experiences, insights, and personal opinions when they aren’t sure why we’re asking in the first place. This threatens status.
For example, have you ever been working at your desk when your paralegal pops his or her head in and asks, “Are you free Wednesday afternoon?” If you’re like me, my response is always, “Why?” I don’t want to commit to anything until I know what it is. Jurors feel the same way.
It is incredibly fear-inducing to be put on the spot and asked to speak in front of a group when you aren’t sure of the context. This is why I suggest you provide context to jurors before asking questions. I call these context statements and include them in all of the voir dire I help attorneys create.
Context statements are simple and neutral. They do not give any information about the case that wouldn’t be allowed, nor are they argumentative. They simply provide context for the question you’re about to ask so that jurors can relax and feel empowered at the same time.
For example, if you are trying a car crash case, one context statement might be, “This case involves a car crash.” Simple. But don’t let the simplicity of the context statement fool you; context statements help jurors feel safe by giving them a reason for the question. I cannot tell you how many times in both mock and actual juries I’ve seen a perplexed look on a juror’s face after an attorney has asked a question. Sometimes they don’t understand the question, but in many cases they don’t understand why the attorney is asking the question.
Providing jurors context will help you preserve status. It shifts the power imbalance. You have more information than the jurors. By sharing that information, the power shifts. Jurors begin to have equal footing, and as jury selection continues, that power grows. The more they learn, the more empowered they are.
Before each line of questioning during voir dire, give jurors some context with a simple context statement. Providing jurors with context before asking them questions preserves their status by making it easier to speak in public. The more informed the jury, the more comfortable they feel. The more they know, the more powerful they are.
It should come as no surprise that jurors don’t want to be there. But have you ever asked yourself why that is?
The obvious answer is that no one wants their day or week interrupted, but there are much deeper reasons, neurological reasons that take jurors captive.
David Rock, in his book Your Brain at Work lists five sociological factors that when threatened, the brain views as an attack. Those factors form the SCARF model:
What process threatens all five of these factors at once? Jury selection.
Think about it: jurors must speak in public. This threatens status. What if they say the wrong thing? Stutter? Embarrass themselves?
There’s no certainty for jurors. They don’t how or if they’ll be picked to serve. They don’t know what the case is about. They don’t even know when lunch is.
Jurors are forced to participate, restricting their autonomy. They cannot choose to opt out. They’re forced to be there.
Jurors don’t know you, defense counsel, the judge or each other. Most of us wouldn’t go to a cocktail party by ourselves, much less jury selection, but jurors are forced to go it alone. Jury selection creates a lack of relatedness.
And although all eligible Americans may be called for jury selection, that’s no comfort to the jurors. On this day, they’ve been called to jury duty and even though it’s not unfair, it sure feels like it.
Jury selection takes jurors captive by taking their brains hostage. They feel under attack due to lack of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. And it’s your job to set them free.
You must reverse the threat jury selection creates and help your hostages become heroes.
Welcome to the From Hostage to Hero blog. In this blog and accompanying podcast, I’ll teach you to understand the juror mindset and change your approach. By working with instead of against the jurors, you’ll find your job becomes easier and you may begin to win more too.
Until next week, subscribe to my From Hostage to Hero podcast on iTunes, and join my From Hostage to Hero Facebook group.
I am pleased to announce that my book, From Hostage to Hero, is currently being edited by Trial Guides and will hopefully be out later this year.
To assist trial attorneys who want to engage with me and my method, we’ve designed several ways to do so:
First, you can subscribe to my From Hostage to Hero podcast. Available on iTunes or on my website, in this podcast I’ll discuss ways to help move your hostile group to one that wants to take action for you and your client.
Second, you can join my free Facebook Group: From Hostage to Hero Facebook Group by clicking here and asking for access. You must be a civil plaintiff attorney or criminal defense attorney to join. I’ll be live, each week in the Facebook group teaching and taking questions. In addition, this blog, along with the podcast, will be posted to the group. There will be group discussion starters, trial tips and other goodies as well.
Third, you can add yourself to the waitlist to know when The Amplify Project will open by visiting amplify-project.com. What is The Amplify Project you ask? It will be an online community that is available by subscription only. Inside the project you’ll find my Path to Power course, my Power of Attorney course, nonverbal videos, workbooks, sample openings and voir dires, coaching and live training. You do -not- want to miss it when the project opens as it will only be open for 5 days and we’ll only open the project a few times a year. Want to learn more? Take the Free Course at amplify-project.com and subscribe to the TAP Into Your Power: The Amplify Project Podcast on iTunes.
Finally, you’ll receive a weekly digest on Mondays that will include this weekly blog, a preview of the upcoming podcast and FB live, and other announcements that will keep you informed, such as when the book will be available.
I look forward to interacting with you here on the blog, in the FB group and through the podcasts. Get ready to learn how to move not only the jurors, but yourself, from hostage to hero!
Sari has been dubbed the "Attorney Whisperer" because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves.