I want to begin this blog by saying that this piece is not a hatchet job on juries or attorneys. Both are the backbone of our justice system and a very important part of putting takeout food on my table and a roof over my three dogs’ heads. That being said, many of us have seen a rift growing between jurors and litigators. Jurors are frustrated with the legal process while attorneys complain about jurors’ inability to understand case arguments, basic premises of law, and instructions.
Unfortunately, this disconnect has spawned sayings like “The only people on juries are those who were not smart enough to avoid jury duty.” However, I believe that this confusion (often thought to be a lack of intellect) is often due to poor communication. Jury duty is tough. Jurors must face complex legal issues, sit like silent sponges without interaction, delay deliberation, and proceed with little guidance.
Imagine if 12 attorneys were brought to a conference of astrophysicists to judge who had the correct theory about the size of the universe. Let’s suppose that the lawyers were told to sit and watch days (even weeks) of presentations by top physicists, were not allowed to ask real-time questions, and were not allowed to deliberate until the very end. What would physicists say about the attorneys who could not understand such basic premises: The Planck epoch, relativity, and the cosmological constant? My guess is that it would not be complimentary.
The problem, as with many of the world’s ills, is one of common language. So, I suggest we go back to the basics and look to the rules of Kindergarten to find our answers.
(BTW, as a shout-out to Science Daily's hard work, the following links all go to their articles.)
The Golden Rule: In 1992, Bill Clinton famously uttered the phrase, “I feel your pain.” New research suggests that this may have been more than rhetoric. A study published in Cell Press found that our brains show similar patterns of activity both when we feel pain and when we see familiar pain in someone else. However, the study suggests that it is much more difficult for us to process unfamiliar pain. This impediment can have big implications on both jury selection (looking for those who have common pain) and the need for metaphors and similes to bridge the gaps (speaking to those without common pain).
Say Thank You (or at least think it): Researchers from the field of management consulting have discovered that thinking about worse case scenarios connects us more strongly to our actual (if imperfect) reality. Their study found that employees (concerned about the economy) who were asked to think about potential pitfalls that their company had survived, were more likely to have greater attachment and positivity towards their employer. For example, FedEx employees felt better about the company after focusing on the thought of what would have happened if the founder (Fred Smith) had not chosen to make his desperate 1973 flight to Las Vegas to help his company meet payroll. In other words, counting our blessings both makes us appreciative of what we have and tends to mitigate negativity about the present.
More Pictures: Researchers at North Carolina State University have discovered that the saying “less is more” does not necessarily apply to charts and graphs. They found that rectangular bar charts were actually processed more quickly with a circular (filled with circles) background than with a blank/white background. They posited that contrast was the key to identifying important information, not simplicity. Throw out the boring demonstratives, complex ones can actually increase retention and attention.
Nap Time: While I know it’s unconventional (yet unintentionally partaken by many), I end this blog with a plea for a national “nap time” to be inserted into the trial day. In support of my call, I point to research out of Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center that shows dreaming about a complex task (doing a maze) during a nap increased performance by 10 times over those who did not nap. Don’t we want our jurors maximizing their retention and processing? Support the national call for nap time, Winston Churchill did: “Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imagination.”
Blogger: Matt McCusker