In the courtroom, you can do all the right stuff—tell a meaningful story of your client’s case, show compelling evidence, demonstrate courtesy to opposing counsel and witnesses, follow the rules of the court—and yet an individual juror will sometimes observe or fixate on something so random, so unconnected to the case, that you would have to be Caesar’s Soothsayer to anticipate it. Existing outside a lawyer’s control, jurors can be a real source of anxiety—and yet, they are but one piece of the psychological morass inside a courtroom. It’s not just the jurors you have to think about, says psychologist Melissa M. Gomez. It’s also opposing counsel, the judge, and the witnesses, all bringing their own unique perspectives and life experiences with them and affecting the atmosphere of your trial. In her book, Jury Trials Outside In, Dr. Gomez posits these outside dimensions bear an often overlooked impact on how you communicate and behave in the courtroom—and teaches, from a psychological perspective, what you can do about it. Jury Trials Outside In doesn’t just ask fascinating questions. It answers them, too.
How did you first meet “Auntie NITA”?
I had written my book and was discussing finding a publisher with a client, who happened to be involved with NITA. He connected me to the NITA publishing department, and voilà!
This brings up an interesting point: despite your years of experience as a jury and trial consultant, you’re not actually a lawyer. How did you become interested in the law and make it the focus of your life’s work?
Alas, the law is not the focus on my life’s work. Psychology and what makes people learn, perceive, decide, and react in a particular way to a particular situation is my life’s work. The jury trial is a fascinating place where these elements of psychology apply across all the humans involved (the jurors, witnesses, lawyers, judge, public opinion, etc.).
Without giving away any identifiable details, what are some of the most interesting situations you’ve dealt with as a trial consultant?
I think what is most interesting about my job comes down to a simple concept: People are people. In my job as a jury expert, I have worked with lawyers, television stars, CEOs, billionaires, people in poverty, doctors, felons, nurses, politicians, engineers, truck drivers, scientists, . . . you name it.
Jury trials cause stress to everyone, whether they are the jurors, the lawyers, the witnesses, or the judge. The results of a jury trial often change lives. People react in different ways, but everyone feels it. We are all human beings. And I have liked just about every person I have met—regardless of who they are and what their job title is.
How did you come up with the idea to write your book, Jury Trials Outside In?
It started off as writing down my stories from the courtroom, and then, as the pile of my stories grew, I saw themes emerge that I wanted to connect to basic concepts of psychology, sociology, etc. It just flowed from there.
What is your writing process like?
Airplanes. I click away on airplanes. I usually just let words and ideas stream out onto the keyboard, and then I go back and read what I have written. I make the sentences tighter. I do some research on the idea that is developing and then add the results of that research into the text. Then I do it again on the next flight with the next set of ideas.
I then piece it all together like a puzzle and comb it through a few times. By the time anyone sees it, I have gone over it at least five or six times.
What is the most important personal attribute you bring to your work?
An ability to see outside of my own perspective, to find connections between concepts, and to narrow complex information into its basic elements.
What bores you?
If you could buy anything and price was no object, what would you buy?
A piece of art work by Picasso.
What is your favorite breakfast?
A banana with almond butter.
Besides your family, who in your life has known you the longest?
My graduate school advisor and professor from the University of Pennsylvania. She now does contract work for me when I conduct mock trials. I trust her completely.
What was your favorite book as a child?
Artie the Smartie. It was a story of a little fish that wanted to make a big splash.
If you came with a warning label, what would it say?
I found this question hilarious, so I put it out to friends and clients on my Facebook feed. Here are the responses.
My favorite is the one from Alan Feldman, a client of mine: “Warning: Disregard advice at you (or your client’s) own risk!”
Coffee or tea?
Cats or dogs?
Dogs with silly names. Mine is named Figaro so we can sing the song when we call him.
Classical or modern?
iPhone or Android?
Sweet or salty?
Why choose? I like a combination of the two.
Spring ahead or fall back?
Neither. I am philosophically opposed to Daylight Savings Time.
And finally, what is your motto?
If it scares the crap out of you, it is probably worth doing.
Enjoy this interview? Find more of our Asked and Answered interviews with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate.