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Simple Jury Persuasion: Look inside at the very best ‘you’ there is…

Friday, January 1, 2010
posted by Douglas Keene

How do you get jurors to truly set aside their biases and deliberate from a place of fairness and tolerance? In 2000, Wendy Wood published a review of literature on social influence and message-based persuasion.  We think they are truly relevant to litigation advocacy and we want to focus on two findings in particular (from Pool et al., 1998 and Abrams & Hogg, 1988).

According to Wood, Pool et al., (1998) finds we agree with people we favor. Another way of saying this is that we are influenced by our desire to be like those whom we admire, value, see positively and respect.

Wood sees Abrams & Hogg’s (1988) work as concluding that we also are influenced to change our attitudes by a desire “to be true to oneself and to achieve a coherent, certain self-view”. In other words, we want to see ourselves as reliable and consistent, values that most people rank highly.

So how do you use this in litigation advocacy?  First, know that it is safe to encourage jurors to be the best version of themselves.  Second, encourage them to set aside bias, hatred, superiority, jealousy, racism, ageism, sexism, and pretty much any other ‘ism’ you can call to mind. We’ve seen this strategy used by a masterful attorney friend in Houston over the years and it could go something like this in a closing statement:

“I want you to close your eyes with me and picture a parent who loves his or her child. And that child grows up and makes some mistakes along the way as we all do.  The loving parent recognizes that like all of us, the child is imperfect and struggling, and in spite of his special needs he has hopes and dreams like we all do.  And so the parent devotes untold hours per day, every day, for years.  Then one day that parent is horribly hurt and the now-grown child is left alone to be cared for by relatives. When you look inside yourself at the very best ‘you’ there is, should it make a difference when you open your eyes if that child you see in front of you is black (or old, or Hispanic, or disabled, or disfigured, or poor)?  Of course not.  Because a child, even when grown, is still a child.  And needs must be met.”

Our client is a master.  Even when we know it’s coming, we tear up. The message is delivered solemnly, quietly and almost musingly to the jury. The case narrative is encapsulated into a few sentences and the ‘hook’ is a direct invitation to set aside our biases.

It is an invitation to be the best we are. To align ourselves with those we admire rather than acting out of our own petty biases and fears. It is a call to arms and a call to arms of the best aspects of our selves. We want to see ourselves positively. We want to feel good about what we do. And on a jury, we want to right wrongs.

Abrams D. and Hogg, M.A. (1988). Comments on the motivational status of self-esteem in social identity and intergroup discrimination. European Journal of Social Psychology, 18:317–34.

Pool, G.J., Wood, W., and Leck, K. (1998). The self- esteem motive in social influence: agreement with valued majorities and disagreement with derogated minorities. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75:967–75.

Wood, W. (2000). Attitude Change: Persuasion and Social Influence. Annual Review of Psychology, 51:539-570.

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