How Jurors Work: Emotions Lead the Law

Consider this fact pattern and outcome from a case we recently worked on: Plaintiff rear-ends trailer pulling a large load of logs. I repeat: Plaintiff rear-ends defendant. But the jurors assign most of the blame to the defendant… who was rear-ended.

Juror's Feedback:

Jurors emotion over law

This outcome is incredibly common. Why?  The plaintiff attorney in this case engaged the juror's emotions and gave them the need to help the plaintiff... from the beginning of the voir dire. The jurors then ignored all the instructions about how the law requires drivers to control their own vehicles . . . and instead found that drivers have a legal duty to warn cars behind them!

The moral of the story?  Jurors will ignore real law, and make up fake law, in order to follow their emotions.  As one federal judge tells his lawyers in settlement discussions: “Give me good damages and I don’t need liability.”

Here’s what our best lawyers do about this. First, they understand that it is naive to think that jurors will follow (or even understand) the jury instructions. Instead, they take time in their trial prep to answer this question: 

How do I engage these juror's emotions? 

Successful lawyers, both plaintiff and defense, then create a compelling emotional frame of reference for the case… before saying a word about the substance of the law. They do this first in voir dire. Don't wait for opening arguments, and certainly not for your closing. Secure the juror's emotional buy-in from the get go, then spend your case channelling it towards a winning verdict.

We have seen countless examples of this reality playing out in our jury research projects. Schedule a call to learn more about how we have helped attorneys win their juror's hearts AND minds. 

- Mike


About the Author

IMG_1089-1

Mike is an attorney, mediator, and expert jury consultant. Mike graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1985. He started his career at a prominent North Dakota insurance defense firm, and eventually went on to start his own law firm specializing in plaintiff's personal injury work. As a mediator, Mike has settled over 1,200 cases. Mike founded First Court in 1989. Over the years, First Court has produced hundreds of mock trials in over 40 states. Mike excels at crafting jury research projects to provide realistic, high-quality feedback on the most important issues in a case.

On the personal side, Mike ran for the United States Senate in 2004. Mike and his wife Julie have nine children, and live on a 500-acre ranch in beautiful western North Dakota.

Tagged: Jury Research, Jurors, Emotion, Law

Share