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How to Persuade Jurors in Trial Using Their Own Voir Dire Feedback

To persuade jurors, you’ll need to offer a thematic story throughout the entire case presentation and through each witness. With the aid of a mock trial, you’ll know what themes resonated best and have a case story crafted around those themes.

But that’s only part of the equation. In a trial questionnaire and during voir dire, your potential seated jurors are offering up their own personal attitudes and experiences. They’re handing you subtle insights into what will persuade them. So what are you going to do with this valuable information once the jurors are sworn in?

As jury consultants, we use those insights to further customize your case themes and direct your witness testimony. These personalized persuasion points, crafted to resonate with your specific seated jurors – sometimes even using their own words – can provide your case that extra edge. By modifying your themes, or adding new ones, you stand to increase specific juror attention, retention, and the persuasiveness of your case.

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The Psychology of Persuasion

Although the art of persuasion is anything but simple, there are a couple particularly applicable social-psychology principles to consider:

  1. Get Jurors’ Attention: Anything that gets jurors to pay closer attention, such as mixing up presentation media and telling a compelling story that jurors can follow all the way through, will put extra emphasis on your case.
  2. Make It Personally Relevant: Persuasion is strongest when the message and juror (via experiences or attitudes) are aligned. In other words, the most persuasive messaging is personally relevant. They’ll be more likely to pay attention to it, agree with it, and remember it.

Custom Persuasion Points Tailored to Each Juror

With seated jurors’ voir dire and questionnaire comments in hand, it is possible to harness their attitudes and experiences to tailor your opening, witnesses’ testimony themes, and closing to those specific jurors. Your greatest persuasion opportunity is to repeat their own statements back to them in the context of the defense story. You can also play to their professions and interests. The general goal is to assimilate verbiage and issues familiar to each juror into your themes/story, witness testimony, and trial graphics. After all, the easiest person to agree with is yourself; if those words and ideas were important enough for a juror to say out loud in court, then those same words and ideas have a greater chance of persuading them when echoed by your witnesses and trial counsel.

To create these persuasion points, vigilant, detailed note-taking during voir dire is required. These notes can then be streamlined and combined with pertinent questionnaire results into a “juror profile” of sorts.

For reference, here are a couple of juror persuasion points we devised for two recent trials:   

First, an asbestos-related personal injury/product liability trial.

  • Juror 10: Juror 10 works in a machine shop warehouse. This means he has to abide by OSHA standards and safety rules. He will understand the mandatory safety regulations that require the employer to take steps to keep the PELs below dangerous levels. More directly, Dr. [defense expert] should address clearly the “state of the art” at the time this plaintiff worked at this facility and (sometimes) used safety equipment, emphasizing that the knowledge, testing, and technology was the best it could be at the time. 

Second, a fire property damage case with claims regarding liability of various entities, including utilities.

  • Juror 4: As a budget analyst with direct and family experience working for the government, he will understand regulations. If witnesses can emphasize how heavily regulated the industry is by various government entities, he will attend to that. He may need to hear from defendants that any choices about the power line locations and types had less to do with economics, and more so to do with regulatory and legal (right of way) constraints, particularly in mountainous areas. For this juror, company witnesses should suggest they must trust and allow regulatory agencies to do their job because a non-profit cannot tell the government what to do.

In the first example, the tailored suggestion encouraged two themes to be added to the case – “Employer Responsibility” and “State of the Art” – which were then relayed to certain experts and witnesses, and incorporated into opening and closing. In the second example, a “Strictly Regulated by the Government” theme was tied to the juror’s regulatory experience and emphasized through company witnesses. It is also beneficial to use the themes as titles for relevant slides during presentations, to highlight and reinforce jurors’ own words and beliefs. In doing so, these points meet the two key elements of persuasion outlined above – attention-grabbing and personally relevant.

Note: It can be difficult for your team alone to take such detailed notes and develop them into persuasion points while also managing voir dire and final trial preparations. As such, an experienced jury consultant – someone dedicated to taking these notes, who knows what to listen for and how to incorporate the information – can be a valuable asset.

Final Thoughts

Custom persuasion points are crucial to better connect with those who will be deciding your case. Jurors are often telling you what they want, so be sure to leverage that information to align your story with your audience. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.”

Jill-Liebold

 

By: Jill M. Leibold, Ph.D., Director – Jury Research