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Scientifically proven ways to be persuasive in the courtroom

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July 26, 2013 // Law

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By Amy Singer, Ph.D. and Diana Greninger

Trial consulting: as some of us like to call it, persuasion psychology.

The study of psychology, which means “study of the soul,” dates back as far as the 1600’s. It wasn’t until the 1970’s, in our modern courtrooms, that persuasion psychology emerged.  A trial consultant’s main goals include: de-selecting jurors who may have biases against your side; de-selecting jurors who have biases favorable to the other side; and coming up with presentation strategies to cause the seated jurors to surrender and make a decision that is favorable to your side.

Here are three scientifically proven ways to be persuasive:

 

1. Make it socially acceptable.

In our everyday world, this can be exemplified in ads urging women to vote. In one of our recent elections, an ad implored women to vote but also mentioned 22 million single women did not vote on the previous election. Such ad portrays not voting as socially acceptable. After all, 22 million women did not vote, what is one more?

In the courtroom, this means you want to avoid voting for the other side coming off to be socially acceptable. Empower jurors by letting them know why giving you a favorable decision is more socially acceptable.

In high profile cases, such as State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman, there tends to be a lot of media pressure from both sides. It was crucial for defense attorneys to ask jurors during voir dire if they feared post-trial riots, as that would indicate they already felt pressured by one side and may perceive one side to be more socially acceptable than the other (prevent riots).

 

2. Tell jurors you trust them to make the right decision.

In our everyday world, it might mean a sign in a hotel bathroom saying something along the lines of “a donation has been made to support a nonprofit environmental organization, since the hotel trusted you to reuse the towels,” vs. “if you reuse the towels, we will make a donation.” The first sign urged 45% more people to reuse their towels.

In the courtroom, tell jurors the positive outcome a decision favoring your side will create. Let them know, plaintiff in a medical malpractice case will receive the care needed to improve or that the defendant hospital will not be making that same poor judgment call again once the jurors vote in your favor, and find against the hospital.”

In a high profile cases, such as the Zimmerman case, defense attorneys asked jurors to make the right decision and not convict if they were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.

 

3. Ask jurors for a small thing first, once they comply, ask them to make the difficult decision.

In a study done many years ago, researchers asked a group of homeowners to place a large “Drive Carefully” sign on their front lawn. Only 17% agreed. Researched asked another group to put a small window sign asking drivers to slow down. Once they complied with this “small favor,” researchers came back and asked them if they were ok with road traffic people maintaining the larger “Drive Carefully” sign on their beautiful lawns. This time, 76% of people agreed. This mental foot-in-the-door technique made homeowners from the second group view themselves as socially responsible and safety-aware, hence a request for a larger favor few weeks later didn’t startle them.

In the courtroom, it is important to ask jurors to make the “easier” decisions first, before deliberating about the real issues in your case.

During closing arguments in the Zimmerman case, defense attorney Mark O’Mara asked jurors to first consider whether there is a possibility George Zimmerman acted in self-defense. He asked them to think about this before looking at the verdict form. Asking jurors for a small thing first, makes the later, harder decision easier to make.

 

In all three examples above, you will notice researchers as well as Mr. Mark O’Mara conveyed their trust in people to make the right decision.  Being a juror is an important civic duty and people strive to do their best in fulfilling their task. People like being trusted and enjoy knowing their opinion counts.  Let them know you trust them and chances are they will look at you and your case in a favorable light.

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