Bridging the jury communication gap

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Michael HolleyA veteran litigator reminded Law Center students that each juror brings a unique background and set of characteristics to a trial and it is the advocate’s job to find a way to bridge those differences. “No one is like you,” Michael R. Holley of The Lanier Law Firm told students as part of the Blakely Advocacy Institute Trial Lawyers Craft Speakers Series.  “And, you are no longer ‘normal’ just by virtue of being in law school.” Advocacy changes, especially as to how and what jurors think, said the commercial litigator who served as a chief prosecutor for the Army in the Abu Ghraib prison trials. While stressing the uniqueness of jurors, Holley said Madison Ave. has categorized Americans into four broad generations, defining each with its own distinctive qualities:

  • Builders – over age 64. The “Word Generation.” People who lived through the Great Depression and wars; they are used to hard work and a tough life and largely process information through the written word.
  • Boomers – ages 49-64. The “Me Generation.” Epitomized by the character J.R. on the television show Dallas with his “What’s in it for me?”Attitude. Characterized by a need for immediate gratification and a questioning of institutions and morality.
  • Busters – ages 26-48. The “iPod Generation” or “Generation X.” The first generation of latchkey kids with both parents working outside the home. Cynical with relationships based on beliefs. He cited early supporters of Barack Obama who related to him personally, but had little idea of where he stood on issues.
  • Bridgers – age 25 and younger. Multi-taskers who process an enormous amount of information to little effect. Holley said studies have found multi-tasking produces poor work and poor thinking. Studies also have found the attention span of this generation is a maximum of 15 to 19 seconds with a concentrated span of only 3 to 5 seconds, he said.  It’s estimated a young male will spend 10,000 hours playing video games by the time he reaches 21. “Multi-tasking hurts your brain,” Holley said. “You lose all ability to think.” He recommended students “work to control multi-tasking” as the payoff will be a competitive edge over those who don’t.

So, how does a young advocate reach across these different generations, he asked? Oral presentations must be both clearly understandable and memorable; abstract thinking is impossible to convey in a trial setting, he said.  Orally, an attorney must get the jury’s attention through vocalization and body movement. Tell stories, use analogies, metaphors and, in a reference to O.J. Simpson and Johnnie Cochran, even rhymes if you think you can pull it off: “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.”  Holley suggested keeping statements simple, noting that studies indicate if a person hears an unfamiliar word, they don’t listen to the next seven words while thinking about it. In the written medium, Holley said timelines are much more effective than a verbal chronology. And bullets should be left out of PowerPoint presentations in favor of one visual and one thought per slide. Visuals, oral statements, physical evidence and projected written material can be effectively combined, he said.

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