noun. a person who advocates an opposing or unpopular cause for the sake of argument or to expose it to a thorough examination.
Are you using the devil's advocate question in voir dire? No? Well pull up a chair, 'cause you're gonna want this in your repertoire.
I've been playing with the devil's advocate question for several years now and have found it to be an absolute must in my voir dire arsenal.
Here is the basic gist:
A devil's advocate question is where you ask the jurors a question that exposes a defense argument.
For example, say you have an overserving case. A bar overserved a customer, that customer drove drunk, and someone was killed.
The defense may say things like:
"We didn't force him to drink."
"He wasn't obviously intoxicated."
A devil's advocate question then would sound like this:
"Yeah, but, what about personal responsibility? No one poured the drinks down his throat."
"But could the bar really do anything? He didn't seem intoxicated."
You take a defense argument and turn it into a question.
But, you have to be careful. For example, NEVER use a devil's advocate question until you've rallied the jurors to your side.
For example, you wouldn't say:
"This is an overserving case. Which means a bar overserved a customer, and that customer drove drunk and killed someone. Who here thinks the bar couldn't do anything if he didn't seem intoxicated?"
Aack! No. You might as well pack up and go home with that question.
Instead, you want to ask the jurors if they think bars can play a part in preventing drunk driving. You want to ask why that's important. You want ask the jurors if bars should be held responsible when someone they overserved hurts or kills someone else.
And, depending on how they answer (ie, if they are "with" you) you can THEN play devil's advocate with:
"Yeah, but, what about personal responsibility? No one poured the drinks down his throat."
Here's why this works: once someone communicates an opinion, if you challenge that opinion it strengthens their conviction that they're right.
Social science backs me up on this. See this article and this one and this one.
The devil's advocate question allows you to both a) bring up a defense point and b) strengthen the opinions of favorable jurors all in one.
Just make sure you only use the Devil's Advocate Question if the jury is firmly rallied around your idea or the question can backfire.
Click here to listen to my podcast on the Devil's Advocate Question.
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.
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 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.
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.
Rachel, my colleague here at FORTE sent this article to me yesterday, titled, The Green Smoothie Problem: Why Others Don’t Buy Your Ideas. In it the author discusses a common problem using an analogy of offering someone a green smoothie:
“Imagine I just handed you a smoothie in a glass. ‘It’s a green smoothie. Wanna drink it?’
If you’ve never seen or heard of a smoothie like that, you’d react in one of two ways:
Simply by handing you the smoothie, I’ve immediately put you at an information disadvantage. As a result, you anchor to a past precedent or try to draw confidence from others in order to fill in the gaps in your knowledge as quickly as possible. If my goal is to get you to drink the smoothie, I’ve done a rather poor job. I’ve merely handed you the drink and left you to do all the reasoning to influence your decision.
But if I really wanted to influence your decision, what if I shared the reasoning too?
What if, rather than simply hand you the smoothie, I laid out the details of how I came up with it?”
I was immediately struck by how the Green Smoothie Problem applies to voir dire. So often attorneys will begin voir dire by asking questions and offer no context or reasoning for why they are asking. Jurors, who are already at a disadvantage by having the least amount of information in the room, are immediately put on the defensive; if they don’t understand why you’re asking the question, they are afraid that whatever answer they give may be the “wrong” one.
Giving context helps put jurors at ease and helps you get more information. Which is why I suggest always giving a “context statement” before asking a question, or set of questions, in voir dire.
For example, if your case involves a car crash, before asking jurors, “Who here has ever been in a car crash?” Simply state, “This case involves a car crash.” If the case involves a hospital, before asking people about their experiences with hospitals, say, “This case involves a hospital.”
Other context statement examples include:
“In this case, someone was injured in a car crash.”
“In this case, there is a disagreement about what caused the crash.”
“This case involves an insurance claim that was not paid.”
Attorneys who hear this advice for the first time will often say to me, “But the judge reads a statement of the case before voir dire begins! Why repeat that info?”
The answer is twofold. One, the statement by the judge is read in its entirety, where voir dire will examine various aspects of a juror’s belief piece by piece. Two, the person who has the most information is the most powerful person in the room. Why leave that power sitting in the judge’s lap? Giving jurors context as you work your way through voir dire increases your credibility while empowering the jury at the same time. It’s win/win.
To learn more about my trial method, visit my Trial Tips page to watch videos on various trial topics, or subscribe to my newsletter to receive these blogs and videos directly into your inbox.
His hands shook violently. So violently that the notes he held only served to illustrate the shaking to the jury. His voice cracked as he spoke. I had put him third; my thought was that seeing two other lawyers present to the jury before him might help him relax. But no, he was as nervous as ever. I tried to read his body language so I could give him feedback later; was he in approachable or authoritative stance? His knees were practically buckling; it was impossible to tell. His “stance” was an attempt to not fall over.
This past weekend was our Opening Statement Studio. Six lawyers from all over the United States came to Portland to work with me for four days on increasing their presence, nonverbal intelligence and presentation skills. We worked on storytelling, teaching and how to deal with objections while playing with breathing and body language and a host of other skills.
After a day and a half of prep, the lawyers arrived Saturday morning to face two mock juries. Each attorney had 20 minutes to present his or her opening and then 10 minutes to hear from the jury and get my feedback. The entire thing would be videotaped.
As I watched this attorney present his opening, I worried about whether or not he’d make it through. But as he began telling the story of what happened to his client, things began to shift. Still nervous as hell, he used a single chair to illustrate to the jury the scene where this all happened. He became, before our very eyes, the characters in those chairs and told the story of how a woman’s life was cut short by a negligent doctor. At one point he ran to the door and shouted, “Call an ambulance!” and it was as if we were there on the day it happened. The jury held their breath as they watched him demonstrate a husband performing CPR on his own wife.
As he brought his opening to a close, his hands were still shaking. The jury, however, was now in tears. I, too, had to fight the urge to allow the tears that had just welled up in my eyes tumble down my cheeks.
Once the jury finished their written feedback, I asked them: “Did you notice that the attorney was nervous?” They all nodded. I then asked, “Who here thinks that this attorney is less credible because he was nervous?” Not a single hand was raised. In fact, as the jury began giving their verbal feedback to the attorney they spoke about his incredible storytelling skills, his ability to make the characters come to life, and how after a 20 minute opening in a complex medical-malpractice case they were ready and willing to award him any amount he asked. His nervousness wasn’t even a factor.
1. The attorney didn’t let the nervousness distract him. He didn’t try to shove it down, but he didn’t let it distract him from the job at hand either. And if it wasn’t distracting to him, it wasn’t distracting to the jury. He taught the jury to ignore it, and they did.
2. The nervousness made him real. Jurors are on high alert for any type of manipulation; had this attorney told this story with perfect poise and perfection, I guarantee you that the jury would have viewed it as a “manipulation” and dismissed it out of hand. Because the attorney was visibly nervous the jury found him more credible, not less.
3. The nervousness made him human. We’ve all been nervous at some point in our lives, whether that was when we asked our boss for a promotion or at our 5th grade piano recital. Nervousness is a human condition. When this attorney embraced his nervousness and presented his opening anyway, he communicated to the jury “I’m just like you.” And they loved him for it.
Nervousness only becomes a credibility issue when we let it distract us from the job we’re attempting to do. Instead of dreading it, embrace your nervousness! Being nervous communicates that whatever you’re attempting to do means something. Forging ahead says to your audience “not only does this mean something to me, it means so much that I’m willing to talk about it even if it makes my knees buckle.”
That takes courage.
Taking courageous action increases your credibility. So the next time you’re literally “shaking in your boots” I suggest you see it as a good thing. Take a deep breath, hold your head high, and let your passion for your subject come through.
Sari de la Motte is the CEO and founder of FORTE, a communications consulting firm that specializes in helping attorneys communicate their real selves. Are you working on a case and need help? Schedule a free 30 minute consultation with Sari now!
Sari has been dubbed the "Attorney Whisperer" because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves.