These studies keep coming up, probably because it’s so hard for us to accept what they teach us. It matters what you look like, and what your client and witnesses look like. It matters so much that both children and adults can accurately pick the winners of real elections – in countries other than their own where they know nothing about the candidates – just by looking at the candidates’ pictures.
John Antonakis and Olaf Dalgas presented photos of pairs of competing candidates in the 2002 French parliamentary elections to hundreds of Swiss undergrads, who had no idea who the politicians were. The students were asked to indicate which candidate in each pair was the most competent, and for about 70 per cent of the pairs, the candidate rated as looking most competent was the candidate who had actually won the election.
They did the same thing with kids, asking the question in kid terms -- which candidate they’d choose to captain their ship from Troy to Ithaca. The kids picked the election winners to be their ship captains. (In the picture above, it was the calm-looking engineering type on the right, not the handsome but unpredictable-looking guy on the left.)
She doesn’t look like an engineering professor . . .
There’s a reason why we use the phrase “straight out of central casting.” When we see someone, we immediately and usually unconsciously judge not just her looks, but her character, building an entire personality based on looks alone. Thus jurors think they know something about what you’re like before you stand up in voir dire. They’ve formed a sense of what your client is like long before he takes the stand. If your client is a criminal defendant who isn’t testifying, they form a sense of what he’s like without ever hearing him speak at all.
The lessons for lawyers in this are the same as always. Don’t think you’re immune. Understand the visual impact you and your witnesses make, and if it needs to be changed, change it. And if your witness looks different from what the jury needs to understand she really is, spend extra time to make sure her real qualities come through. Looks matter.
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