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Monthly Theme: Voir Dire Part Three

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Recognize Leaders

Written by NITA guest blogger Melissa M. Gomez and excerpted from her book Jury Trials Outside In: Leveraging Psychology from Discovery to Decision

One persuasive person can make all the difference. That is why, in jury selection, I not only focus on those characteristics that will make jurors biased against my client, but also those that give a person the kind of charisma that will make her a persuasive thought leader in deliberations.

Leadership is a topic that has been studied and discussed extensively in business journals and academic research. In 2010, for example, de Vries, Bakker-Pieper, and Oostenveld conducted a study that evaluated different leadership styles. In their research, they surveyed 279 employees of a governmental organization. They then categorized their leadership findings into six communication styles: verbal aggressiveness, expressiveness, preciseness, assuredness, supportiveness, and argumentativeness.[1]

In the jury context, one of the main goals of voir dire is to get a sense of who the leaders may be on a panel. Who will be the foreperson, and what kind of impact will that person have on the other members of the panel? In that and other contexts, we often perceive leaders as those who are outwardly talkative, dynamic, and forceful with their opinions. In other words, we associate leaders as those who act in line with de Vries et al.’s verbal aggressiveness and argumentativeness. In doing so, we focus on the wrong characteristics. What these scholars found is that the strongest leaders are not always the loudest—other qualities abound that make someone the kind of person others will actually want to follow.

The research suggested that preciseness is the characteristic that most clearly indicates perceived leader performance and satisfaction with the leader, and this is above and beyond other leadership style variables. It isn’t about being loud. It is about being clear. Precision makes it easy for others to know what to do and where to go. It is the comfort of organization and clarity as opposed to leadership by volume, which can feel like chaos.

In Malcom Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point,[2] he discusses the precision type leaders and their power to bring other people to act, to adopt an idea or to purchase a product. He calls them “salesmen.” In your jury, these are the panel members that sell a case idea or concept in such an effective manner that the other jurors will follow. Having a person like this on your jury can be like having a jury of one person. You convince her, she will convince everyone else with precision. If she is against you, she will turn everyone else against you. All I have to say is that if voir dire reveals someone who appears to have that kind of strong leadership potential, you need to be pretty darn confident she is going to be on your side to keep her on the jury. For me, if I am not confident about which side she will support, she will be my number one strike (or, more likely, my final strike if I decide to play chicken with opposing counsel, hoping they strike her first).

A Pennsylvania focus group in which one of these powerful salesmen participated comes to mind. The case at issue involved an emotionally charged story about an injury to a child. Deliberations were heavy with debate. As the other panel members argued, the salesman did not jump out of the box, yelling his opinions. He was too effective for that. Instead, he sat. He watched. He listened. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t volunteer to be the foreperson. Once the rest of the jurors became exhausted and frustrated with one another, he spoke—not only from his own perspective, but using what he had gained from the other jurors’ opinions. He spoke with a certain grace and sophistication that drew people in. He didn’t say much, but after he did, no other juror voiced an opinion independent from his interpretation. The salesman was selling, and the rest of the jurors were buying.

At the end of their deliberation, I sat down and discussed the case with the group, actively trying to get opinions from the other jurors. They repeatedly referred back to what the salesman had said, repeating his words and starting sentences with “well, I just agree with Bob” or “As Bob said . . . .”

Therefore, when assessing leadership, you must ask not only if there is a person who has the confidence and assertiveness to lead. You also must consider whether that person has the kind of charisma that will make others want to follow and the precise clarity so they can follow.

The good news is that a powerful salesman will more likely than not make him or herself known in jury selection if given a chance. She will speak with confidence in voir dire and happily provide opinion with clarity and precision. For this reason, if the court process allows, ask questions that are open-ended. Getting a sense of communication styles by letting jurors speak freely will give you a better picture of confidence, charisma, and eloquence—the telltale signs of a salesman. Getting just the facts in voir dire may help you identify basic characteristics in your juror profile, but hearing the manner in which someone speaks lets you know more about the interpersonal style or skills of that person.

After all, the power of one can make all the difference.

[Nationally known jury consultant and the President of MMG Jury Consulting, LLC, Dr. Melissa M. Gomez holds a PhD in Psychology and a Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. She has worked on over 500 jury trials across the United States with a focus on the psychology of learning, behavior, and decision-making. She is the author of Jury Trials Outside In: Leveraging Psychology from Discovery to Decision, published by NITA.]

[1]. Reinout E. de Vries, Angelique Bakker-Pieper & Wyneke Oostenveld, Leadership = Communication? The Relations of Leaders’ Communication Styles with Leadership Styles, Knowledge Sharing and Leadership Outcomes, 25 Journal of Business and Psychology 367 (2010).

[2]. Malcom Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000).

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