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10 Indicators of Who Will Be Opinion Leaders in Deliberations

July 24th, 2019|

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.  Jury selection is difficult. It is impossible to predict exactly how any one individual is going to decide the case. Instead, we look for indicators or glimpses into how a potential juror might decide the case. Some attorneys rely on the simple lifestyle choices of jurors, such as their news sources or what the bumper stickers on their cars say. Others use voir dire to explore jurors’ case-related attitudes and life experiences. While some methods are more reliable than others, they are all imperfect tools for trying to predict the future. These imperfections inevitably lead

Coping with Egocentric Jury Decision-Making

July 11th, 2019|

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. We quickly learned that Richard was a horrible juror for us in the trucking accident case we were working on. We had decent evidence that the plaintiff had fallen asleep behind the wheel and veered into our truck, but Richard wasn’t having it. As soon as this issue came up in deliberations, he jumped in, stating, “I don’t care what he says. We have all been on the road with truck drivers and they routinely fly over into the other lane without any notice at all.” This quote was so powerful because what Richard was

Rare Insights from Jurors About Voir Dire

February 5th, 2019|

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. This past Friday, I conducted our first ever all-day mock jury selection workshop in Seattle. Ten attorneys spent the day conducting voir dire and picking a jury to deliberate on the product liability fact pattern we put together ahead of time. Then the mock jurors actually deliberated so we could see how well the attorneys did in voir dire and their use of peremptory strikes. We tried to match everything we could to the actual jury selection process used by our local court. The attorneys had to come up with the right questions to ask,

The Importance of the Me Principle for Jury Strategy (or Those Darn Millennials!)

January 24th, 2019|

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. Sadly, research on cultural changes in America over the past few decades show that we have become more of a narcissistic culture than ever before. Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, wrote the following in an article in Time magazine: “Here’s the cold, hard data: The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health; 58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in

Understanding How Social Media is Changing Your Jurors

December 18th, 2018|

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. One of the often-overlooked features of the social media revolution is how it has changed the consumer/product dynamic. In this era of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the long list of other social media sites, we are no longer the consumers; we are the product. It is our information and attention that drives profit in these industries. Companies like Facebook observe our online conduct and sell that data to other companies. Consequently, incredible attention in recent years has focused on how to keep users engaged in information consumption, which is what we do when we visit

An Effective Strategy For Changing the Narrative in Difficult Cases

December 13th, 2018|

Finding the little fact that changes the case narrative can feel like finding a needle in a haystack at times, which is why it is always good to have a fresh pair of eyes. By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. Some of the best case strategies that we have developed with our clients over the years resulted in the other side having to defend something at trial that they never realized they would have to defend…something they took for granted. This is a strategy I learned during my college debate career (yes, I was a college debate nerd…but you would be

Ease over Accuracy: Why “Yeah, but…” Defense Tend to Fail

December 4th, 2018|

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. The “law of least effort” is an important principle for understanding jury decision-making. In short, if there are several ways of making sense of the evidence and testimony in a case, jurors will gravitate towards the one that is the least demanding for their brains. As Nobel-winning psychology Daniel Kahneman (who has spent his life studying human decision-making) states, “Laziness is built deep into our nature.” In fact, research has consistently shown that we assign greater weight to information and ideas that are more easily accessible to us, regardless of whether that information or those

Priming Jurors to Hate You and Your Client

November 27th, 2018|

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. The critical takeaway from any meaningful discussion about primacy theory and its role in persuading jurors is often the one that is least discussed. Those who tout the importance of primacy theory often talk about priming the jurors to achieve victory, but research shows the real takeaway should be to avoid the early mistakes that cost you the trial. In short, you cannot win your case in jury selection or opening, but you can lose it there. Everybody knows first impressions are important, but some research shows that negative first impressions are much more powerful than

Preparing Witnesses to Pass the “Eyeball Test”

November 14th, 2018|

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. One of the most commonly-cited statistics in communication studies is that verbal communication (i.e. the words that are actually said) constitutes only 7% of how the credibility of a message is determined. 38% is the vocal quality of the message (i.e. tone, etc.), and 55% is the nonverbal component. Some scholars have disputed how these numbers have been interpreted, but research has shown over and over again that how something is said is more important than what is actually said. Setting the research aside, anyone who has ever been in a serious relationship has lived

Faster is Better: Finding the Right Speaking Pace

November 7th, 2018|

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.  What is the most appropriate pace of speech? A common belief among trial attorneys is that it is important to slow down in opening statement and closing argument, particularly when the issues in the case are complex and/or confusing. This belief makes sense since most of us have long been taught to slow down when someone is having difficulty understanding what we are saying. In fact, the term “fast-talker” has its own derogatory meaning, suggestive of a slick salesperson who is willing to say whatever is necessary to complete the sale. However, research in psychology