Thursday, September 29, 2011

Don't Let Your Jurors Miss the Gorilla in the Room

People were asked, in a classic experiment, to watch a short video in which six people-three in white shirts and three in black shirts - passed basketballs around, and to count the number of passes made by the people in white shirts. At some point, a gorilla strolled into the middle of the action, faced the camera and thumped its chest, and then left, having spent nine seconds on screen.

Although intuitively, we all think we’d see the gorilla - how could something so obvious go completely unnoticed? But the truth of the matter is that half of the people who watched the video and counted the passes missed the gorilla! It was as though the gorilla was invisible.

This research, conducted by scientists Chabris and Simons (“The Invisible Gorilla”) has led to further studies on what is known as “unintentional blindness and deafness.” They found that when we’re focused on one thing, we easily miss other, potentially very important, things.

This is why, when it comes to winning in front of a jury, I strongly recommend that you present your most important evidence/testimony both visually and auditorily. You never know which member of the jury is focused on something that renders them unintentionally deaf or blind to your critical point.

It’s also why repetition is important in a trial, and why review at time of close, matters. Don’t rely on spoken review of testimony, but include a visual review, using boards or other graphics, such as check charts, to sum up your interpretation of the facts.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Overreach and Risk Losing the Case

Former Boston firefighter Albert Arroyo, called “the poster child for disability pension abuse” by some, was acquitted recently, much to the consternation of many, for the firefighter, while claiming work-related disability, appeared in various bodybuilding competitions. Jurors when interviewed stated that although most of them believed that Mr. Arroyo was guilty of fraud, they did not believe he was guilty of mail fraud, which was the charge put before them. The jurors concluded that since Mr. Arroyo did not mail his disability forms, but handed them in, he had no way of knowing his forms would in turn be mailed out. The jurors believed they thus had no choice, but to acquit him. They weren’t happy about it, but “we had to stick with mail fraud or nothing.”

There is a potent lesson in here for litigators: don’t over-reach! Proving mail fraud may have, if successful, gained more for prosecutors, but proving mail fraud defied common sense. And common sense is what jurors rely on.

You can’t buck common sense. The easiest, quickest way to find out if the charges or representations of negligence and causation you want to put before a jury will hold up, is to conduct a focus group. As long as your focus group is made up of a sufficient number of persons demographically representative of your jury pool, its members will tell you, in no uncertain terms, what they will “buy” and what they won’t. I guarantee, common sense will win out every time. Go look for it among your potential decision-makers. Do not assume that your version of what will fly, is the common one.