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Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Today, we want to take a moment to highlight the Civil Jury Project at the NYU School of Law. This group examines how the civil jury trial became a vanishing feature of the American legal landscape and looks at the consequence for the legal system and society more broadly. The Civil Jury Project includes practicing attorneys, academics, trial consultants, and others interested in the future of the civil jury trial.

Recently, a nationwide attorney survey was completed by members of the American Society of Trial Consultants in an attempt to gather information on what is causing the decline of the civil jury trial and what recommendations practicing attorneys have to help save the future of the civil jury trial.

Here’s how the survey is described in the free report:

This survey addressed the current involvement by attorneys in jury trials, how they viewed the decline in jury trials, their perceptions of the causes for this decline, their experience with jury trial innovations, and what (if anything) they thought could be done to increase the number of jury trials.

We encourage you to read this initial report from the Civil Jury Project and the ASTC and see what this interdisciplinary group is seeing, recommending, and planning.

Here is the full text of the announcement from the ASTC:

“We are pleased to announce and provide original research produced by ASTC members for a worthy cause. ASTC would like to recognize the following members who recently completed an important survey on the current state of civil trials for CJP at NYU School of Law.

Charlotte A. Morris, M.A. (Project leader)

Tara Trask

David Barnard

Jeffery T. Fredrick, Ph.D.

C.V. “Pete” Rowland, Ph.D.

Susan Macpherson

With a special thanks to Stephan D. Susman Esq. and Richard Jolly.

The Civil Jury Project is engaged in an empirical assessment of the current role of the jury in our civil justice system, the reasons for its decline, and the impact of that decline on the functioning of the civil justice system overall. The basic question is whether jury trials continue to serve the role anticipated by the Framers of the Constitution. Relatedly, it is important to examine the consequences of the decline and what other institutions may currently fill the void.

To help understand the current state of civil jury trials, the American Society of Trial Consultants (ASTC), as part of the Trial Consultant Advisory Group of the NYU School of Law Civil Jury Project, conducted a survey of lawyers who try cases in state and federal courts across the country.

This survey addressed the current involvement by attorneys in jury trials, how they viewed the decline in jury trials, their perceptions of the causes for this decline, their experience with jury trial innovations, and what (if anything) they thought could be done to increase the number of jury trials.

Learn more about CJP/NYU and our work with them in their monthly newsletter.

Citation: Civil Jury Project. (2016). Summarized Results and Recommendations 2016 Attorney Survey: Declining Civil Jury Trials.”

We at Keene Trial and The Jury Room blog hope you will read this report and stay abreast of this important work to address the shrinking civil jury trial and, ultimately, improving our litigation advocacy.

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We have written a lot about how women are treated unequally (which can, sometimes, make it hard to be a woman). Initially, we illustrated these posts with various photos of Tammy Wynette but we decided to stop picking on her for one song (“Stand By Your Man”). So this post illustrates a rough truth (that still exists today) and we are illustrating it with an ironic cross-stitch project.

Researchers wondered if being agreeable (aka ‘nice’) versus being disagreeable (aka ‘nasty’) would make a difference in salary treatment for either men or women. (You know how this works out already.) We should note that the study (using 375 men and women randomly drawn from 1,390 employees) only sampled one company. So, it may not be entirely generalizable. Mmm-hmm—we’ve blogged about this issue before and that study had the same results.

For those that want to know these things, the researchers looked at both objective (e.g., tenure, education, performance reviews) and subjective (e.g., how the individual perceived the fit between their education, experience and performance with their income and professional rank). They also used several research measures for dominance and agreeableness. The researchers compared the objective and subjective data with actual income and promotion statistics within the company.

Let’s just cut to the chase (and you may hum Tammy’s musical lament as you read) and spell this out for you courtesy of a nice summary over at Science Daily.

Dominant and assertive woman (aka nasty) who clearly express their expectations and do not retreat from their demands, are compensated better than their more accommodating (aka nice) female peers.

The same goes for dominant men versus their more conciliatory male counterparts — (wait for it) but even dominant women earn far less than all of their male colleagues, dominant or otherwise.

So, be a dominant and assertive female (aka ‘nasty’ among other things) and you will earn more than your less assertive female colleagues, but the most milquetoast of men will still out-earn you based on nothing but gender. The researchers said something else that was somewhat shocking:

The nice women we polled in our study even believed they were earning more than they deserved. This blew our minds. The data show that they earn the least, far less than what they deserve. And they rationalize the situation, making it less likely that they will make appropriate demands for equal pay. [In comparison, nearly everyone else—nasty women, nice men, and nasty men reported they felt dissatisfied with their compensation.]

From a law office management perspective, this research has much to say about equity, understanding gender bias and gender differences, and how to evaluate, compensate, motivate and retain attorney-associates. The researchers suggest organizational management strategies (thankfully) as follows:

Design evaluation and compensation systems so they are structured and based on objective data (and less dependent on negotiation skills). This may actually help you retain and motivate employees of both genders with varying levels of experience.

Consider being more transparent about compensation so that employees (the nice, the nasty, the male, the female) know what will need to be done to progress in status and compensation within your organization.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from this article is that ‘nasty’ women who complain they are not being treated fairly may very well be accurately assessing their situation. There have been many articles on the exodus of female attorneys from law firms. The ABA Journal, Law Practice Today, law.com, the Washington Post, researchers from Stanford University, and countless blogs have written about the issues. The two recommendations from these researchers (indented above) may well help you staunch that (out)flow when it comes to your individual organization.

Biron, M., De Reuver, R., & Toker, S. (2015). All employees are equal, but some are more equal than others: dominance, agreeableness, and status inconsistency among men and women European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 25 (3), 430-446 DOI: 10.1080/1359432X.2015.1111338

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leadership-geneA recent symposium for IT executives included a presentation that pitched the idea of genetic screening of job applicants for traits like “honesty, leadership, being a team player, and having a high level of emotional intelligence”. While we think you may want to hang onto your checkbook if offered this sort of service, it is a disturbing outgrowth of the burgeoning research into genetic testing for almost everything. Here is a quote from the Seeker website which brought this possibility to our attention:

Although federal and states laws prohibit employers from requesting or using an employee’s genetic information, genetic testing is mainstream. Millions of people voluntarily pay to have their genomes analyzed thanks to inexpensive DNA kits available from companies like Ancestry DNA , Genome , 23andMe, Family Tree, to name a few. And research is moving forward in fields such as psychiatric genetics, trying to find correlations between genes and behavior.

“We fully appreciated the lack of legality and some of the issues with the science,” Furlonger told Seeker by email. “Nonetheless, it seems clear that work is being undertaken and therefore the current state should not be ignored.”

We are glad they appreciate the “lack of legality”. (Some researchers do not acknowledge the legal concerns—like this group on how to hire the “good psychopath” by testing them pre-hire.) The actual best answer to this question is that there is no gene for leadership (or honesty, or being a team player, or having high emotional intelligence) and there is no way testing of this sort would be useful to a company trying to figure out who to hire.

Neurolaw researchers (like Hank Greeley) are speaking up against this strategy:

“Why would an employer rely on imperfect, and generally weak, associations between genes and test scores instead of relying directly on the test scores?” said Henry Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University and the chair of steering committee of the Center for Biomedical Ethics. It’s like running, he said. Rather than look for genetic variations that indicate whether someone is a good sprinter or not, just watch a person sprint. That ought to tell you all you need to know.

We agree and are glad to have voices of reason speaking out against the desire to “push the hiring envelope” into areas that make no sense and violate medical privacy (as well as statistical integrity). Because while the genetic testing can’t tell you anything about the purported target traits, they can tell you things about the person that should not be a factor in hiring (including gender, possibly ethnicity, and medical issues). Will genetic testing results be a tool to worsen the problems of women and non-Asian minorities in breaking into STEM fields? Here’s what we wrote in August 2016 when we came across the “good psychopath” workplace fit test. We think it works for this idea too.

From a law office management perspective, we really would urge rejecting this sort of strategy. What they seem to intimate is that you want to find the 10% of the psychopathic population who have moderate psychopathic tendencies and then, divide them into primary and secondary psychopaths and then, figure out which of the primary psychopaths have really good social skills so their behaviors will not wreak havoc in your workplace.

Putting on our duly licensed Psychologist hats for a moment, the distinction seems to be a very slippery slope. Secondary psychopaths are trouble from the beginning. Primary psychopaths have better social skills so they can manage the day-to-day more successfully, but under stress they are going to create havoc, too. And we have never seen a trial team that isn’t under terrific stress. It is the nature of litigation, and stress tolerances need to be higher than average, not a potential area of weakness.

The authors put a troubling amount of faith in a psychological trait scale, when you can assess the same things by looking at work history, length of relationships, and having your own warning signs on high alert during the interview process. Use your intuition about whether someone will be a good fit. It is also risky to assume you can “get around” the Americans with Disabilities Act by using the PPI-R scale with job applicants when what you are measuring is psychopathy and resulting goodness of fit in your workplace.

And a high-functioning psychopathic attorney is just the kind of person to drag you through a lawsuit by claiming that you rejected him or her based on an ADA protected factor.

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grammarpoliceHere’s another sneaky way researchers try to figure out your real feelings rather than your politically correct and overtly verbalized feelings. This is research from Nextions showing bias still exists in the legal field and it’s about your grammar. Well, really, it isn’t about grammar—it’s about race. On the other hand, the sample size is low (slightly above 50 law partners returned the survey) so you could say this isn’t what you would do…and in fact, not everyone would do what was found among this research group.

Here’s what they did in this very simple study. Researchers had five attorneys cooperate in writing up a legal research memo on trade secrets at internet startup companies. The researchers then placed 22 errors of various kinds into the memo. The researchers sent the legal research memo to 60 partners in law firms who were asked to assess it as an example of the “writing competencies of young attorneys”.

Fifty-three of the partners actually returned the writing sample with comments (that’s an 88% return rate which is quite good). In the event you are interested, of the original 60 partners, 23 were women, 37 were men, 21 were racial/ethnic minorities, and 39 were White. The participating partners were asked to edit the memo for “all factual, technical and substantive errors” and then asked to rate the overall quality of the memo on a scale from 1 (“extremely poorly written”) to 5 (“extremely well written”).

So here is the catch: half of the partners were told the writer was Black and half were told the writer (one Thomas Meyer who was described as a third-year associate with a degree from the NYU School of Law) was White. In other words, the associate’s credentials were exactly the same—the difference was that half thought he was Black and half thought he was White. You have likely already figured out how this turned out but we’ll tell you anyway.

When the partners were told the associate was Black, they judged his written memo much more harshly.

The following descriptions of the way Black and White associates writing was critiqued is quoted from Nextion’s report:

“In regards to the specific errors in the memo:

An average of 2.9/7.0 spelling grammar errors were found in “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo in comparison to 5.8/7.0 spelling/grammar errors found in “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo.

An average of 4.1/6.0 technical writing errors were found in “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo in comparison to 4.9/6.0 technical writing errors found in “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo.

An average of 3.2/5.0 errors in facts were found in “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo in comparison to 3.9/5.0 errors in facts were found in “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo.

The 4 errors in analysis were difficult to parse out quantitatively because of the variances in narrative provided by the partners as to why they were analyzing the writing to contain analytical errors. Overall though, “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo was evaluated to be better in regards to the analysis of facts and had substantively fewer critical comments.”

Vox did a nice summary of this study and translated Sexton’s narrative descriptions into a chart making it easier to ‘see’ the differences identified by law partners when they thought the writing sample was from a White associate or a Black associate.

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Nextion says this study tells us that due to confirmation bias, law partners are more harsh when judging Black associates’ writing. The Vox review cautions us that we are talking about a fairly small sample here (53 partners in total) and each partner only reviewed one writing sample.

If, says Vox, the partners reviewed more than one writing sample and those who reviewed Black associates writing were always harsher—that would mean the partners were harsher for Black Thomas Meyer than they were for White Thomas Meyer. Since the partners only reviewed one writing sample—we cannot be sure if this is an artifact of some partners being harsher than others or if it is truly bias that tells us Black associates are judged more harshly. Or those who reviewed it might have been having a bad day. Maybe.

The qualitative comments shared from the partner’s reactions remind us of the inconsistent comments we often get from our mock jurors as they evaluate witnesses based on brief deposition excerpts. Remember—before reading these reactions to the writing samples—the law partners received identical memos—the only difference was whether they thought the writer was Black or White.

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From the perspective of law office management—this study reminds us (again) to pay attention to making all of our evaluations as objective as we can so our subjective (and often biased) opinions do not enter into our evaluations. What that means is that you need to look at the specific expectations of the position and list objective criteria for evaluation related to hiring, raises, promotion, and assignments to various cases.

Our biases are almost always hidden from us (it’s called a bias blind spot) and studies like this one, if reliable, tell us we are not as open to diversity as we may want to believe. If you are concerned about managing diversity effectively and other aspects of leadership, you may want to visit our other posts under the Law Office Management category.

Nextions. (2016) Written in Black and White: Exploring confirmation bias in radicalized perceptions of writing skills. http://www.nextions.com/wp-content/files_mf/14468226472014040114WritteninBlackandWhiteYPS.pdf

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strong man circusIt wasn’t long ago we said all you had to do to be seen as a leader was grow a mustache but apparently this also helps! Men who look “strong” physically are presumed to be good leaders compared to men who do not look strong physically. These researchers had mastered Photoshop so we know their results reflect our (stereotypical) beliefs accurately.

The researchers showed groups of men and women photographs of different men (from the waist up in a white tank top to reveal his shoulder, chest and arm muscles) and told their task was to rate some men recently hired by a consulting firm. The participants were asked to rate the men in the photographs on the basis of how much they admired the individual, how much they held him in esteem, and how much they believed he would rise in status. They were asked specifically about whether they thought the man in the photograph would be a good leader and whether they thought he would be effective in dealing with others in a group.

You already know what happened here. The participants chose the men who appeared physically stronger to be leaders and rated them as having higher status than those who appeared physically less strong.

Undeterred, the researchers went to Photoshop and switched the bodies of the strong and weak (rated) men in the photos. That is, strong bodies went to the faces of men who’d been rated as weaklings and poorer leaders and weak bodies went to the faces of men who’d been rated as strong. The same questions were asked of participants in the Photoshopped experiment.

And yes. The results reversed with the previously weak men now being seen as strong and higher in status and leadership qualities. Buff bodies won.

So then the researchers returned to Photoshop and this time used their powers to vary the height of the photographed men who were now presented in small groups (a lineup as the researchers call it). Each subject’s appearance was manipulated so he appeared short, tall, and of equal height to the other men in the lineup.

Yes. Yes. You know. Taller men were seen as stronger and were also rated as being better leaders and having higher status than shorter men.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this tells us that first impressions matter but then you knew that. But we’ve seen solid testimony and a likable demeanor endear witnesses who do not appear physically strong to juries.

In a mock trial a number of years ago, one of our attorney-clients was curious as to how his witness would be perceived since he was not classically attractive and had a medical condition that affected his voice and appearance. The witness, well aware of the way he came across, was in attendance at the mock trial and also wanted to see if his presentation would be a detriment to the case.

After some planning (since this is not something we usually do—and usually urge that it not be done— at mock trials), the witness went in and engaged in direct and cross-examination in front of the mock jurors. On direct, the attorney asked him about his voice and appearance and the witness answered directly and concisely with a smile. With that matter dispatched, the remainder of the questioning was done and as the witness’ voice cracked and squeaked, the jurors listened intently. What they told us afterwards was that they found him extremely likable and when they knew what caused the “differentness” in his appearance and voice—they were able to focus instead on what he said and how it fit into the case.

First impressions are important but they can be altered and restructured. In our experience with pretrial research—jurors often are very supportive of a case when the attorney tells a good story. But then, if witness depositions do not match up with the juror’s picture of that witness—their predisposition to like the witness shifts and they begin to eye the attorney with suspicion.

The takeaway for litigation advocacy is a simple one: Remember that attractive, strong, tall men (in this case) are seen as better in many ways. Our suspicion is that part of it is related to beauty being admired, but it is likely also related to research on obesity. People who are obese are often seen as less disciplined, less careful, less capable, and less credible than people who are more trim. It seems likely that obviously fit and buff witnesses represent the opposite end of the spectrum, with all of the positive attribution that comes with that.

When your client is not buff or beautiful, focus instead on likability and relatability. Close the gaps in testimony that leave the listener wondering about sincerity and trustworthiness, and help your client tell a story that emphasizes their similarity to the jury—whether that is through shared values, treasured activities, or shared experiences—the more your client is “like” the jurors, the more the jurors are likely to embrace the client and his or her perspective as presented in testimony.

Lukaszewski, A., Simmons, Z., Anderson, C., & Roney, J. (2015). The Role of Physical Formidability in Human Social Status Allocation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology DOI: 10.1037/pspi0000042

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