In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with trial lawyer and consultant Gregory Cusimano. As one of the authors of “Winning Case Preparation: Understanding Jury Bias,” Gregory has conducted a plethora of research on why plaintiff’s lawyers win and lose cases. He and Michael discuss his 10 part jury bias model in detail and how you can apply it to your own cases.
They start off the episode with Michael asking Gregory how he first got involved with this research. He explains how it began as an AAJ committee which he co-chaired with attorney David Winters. The committee was instated because there had been a trend of good lawyers losing good cases, and they wanted to understand why it was happening. After conducting around 1,000 focus groups on every case type imaginable, they developed the foundations of the jury bias model.
Gregory goes on to share how it didn’t take long to identify the five common anti-plaintiff biases, which they called “untried issues.” These are issues which are important to a jury, but not to the plaintiff’s lawyer, so most lawyers would try the case without ever addressing them. The initial 5 untried issues included personal responsibility, suspicion, victimization, “stuff” happens, and “blame the plaintiff.” While some of these may seem obvious, Gregory explains why understanding these issues is critical for your case.
Michael then asks Gregory what plaintiff’s lawyers can do about these issues, which he admits was the much harder answer to find. In time, he was able to come up with the “10 Commandments,” or 10 decision-making events or aspects that tend to work. He emphasizes that these are in no way a fool-proof formula to win every case, but instead are a way to use social science to present your case in the best way possible.
The first (and incredibly important) step is to develop the trial story. The story should be discovered through jury research. Then, you frame your trial story to be consistent with the beliefs of the potential jurors in your venue. Gregory then eloquently ties in the concepts of Fundamental Attribution Error and Availability principle to explain how important framing and ordering of the facts is to the success of your case.
The next step is to elicit confirmation. Once you’ve found through research what the jurors in your venue believe, you need to present the case in a way which is “hand in glove” to what they already believe. When Michael asks Gregory how the lawyer should figure this out, his answer is fitting with the research he’s done: concept focus groups. If the case warrants it, this is the gold standard in Gregory’s opinion. If it’s a smaller case or you don’t have the funds to hire an outside consultant to hold the focus group, Gregory STRONGLY cautions against attempting to do it yourself. Instead, you should ask colleagues, friends, or family to participate in the process. This is because lawyers are already so invested in their own cases it’s nearly impossible to not project your own biases to your mock jury. Lastly, it’s important to remember that a focus group is qualitative, not quantitative research. A group of 10 is not a big enough sample size to conclude why you need a specific type of person on your jury.
Another “commandment” is to “head the norm.” Gregory explains how this stems from the “norm principal,” and when applied to trial it means if the conduct of the defendant is “according to the norm,” juries are not likely to find liability. He shares an example of a case he had where a man was on the back of a garbage truck that crashed into another vehicle, amputating the man’s leg. He thought the case was perfect, but he kept losing in every focus group and mock trial. Eventually, he realized even though men standing on the back of a garbage truck is incredibly dangerous, every juror had seen people doing it. It was the norm, so they never found liability.
They move on to discuss another commandment, “plan for hindsight bias.” This is framing your case in a way where a jury would think, “I knew that was going to happen.” For example, a product liability case begins in a corporate boardroom six years ago when they decided not to go with a safer option. As you share the subsequent meetings and decisions made, the jury already knows how the story is going to go when your client swerves to avoid a puppy in the road.
The next commandment is to create empathy. Referencing “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow” by Danny Kahneman, he explains how there are two distinct ways in which people make decisions – intuitive or logical and reasonable. It may seem backwards, but if you can get the jury to project empathy, they will begin to use more logic and analyze. Gregory then emphasizes empathy is NOT sympathy, and shares why it is such an important distinction.
They move on to briefly discuss Michael’s favorite commandment, “drop the anchor” before the 10th and final commandment, “build the frame.” Citing Mark Mandell, Gregory elaborates that framing can be both overall and very minor. He and Michael both share examples they’ve used in cases which appear minor, but made a huge difference in the jury’s perception of a statement.
They conclude the episode by discussing the third and final section of Gregory’s book, the new method for putting a case together. He describes how he uses the 10 commandments in such a clear and concise way anyone who puts in the work can do it. In fact, this strategy has been so successful that Gregory and his team have found it will move a good case 15-20% into the plaintiff lawyer’s favor! This incredibly informative episode is truly a must-listen for any plaintiff lawyer who wants a leg up with the jury!
If you’d like to contact Gregory to learn more from him or to consult on a case, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call his office at 256-543-0400.
Gregory S. Cusimano is an owner of the law firm of Cusimano, Roberts, Mills & Knowlton, LLC in Gadsden, Al. and Winning Works LLC a national trial consulting firm. He concentrates his practice on serious personal injury and death cases. He is a frequent speaker at continuing legal education programs throughout the country. Mr. Cusimano was twice elected to serve on AAJ’s Executive Committee and budget Committee, was chair of the ATLA Blue Ribbon Committee to study juror bias and continues to conduct research on tort reform rhetoric and juror attitudes. He, along with David A. Wenner, developed the Jury Bias Model™ that many say revolutionized how cases are tried today.
Cusimano has held every elected office in the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association, including president. The Association has honored him with an annual Cusimano Symposium. He was appointed by the Alabama Supreme Court to committees to rewrite Alabama Rules of Evidence, the Alabama Pattern Jury Instructions, and to revise the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure. On two occasions, Mr. Cusimano was asked to be the plenary speaker at his State Bar Association’s annual meeting. He served on the President’s Council of the ATLA, (American Association for Justice – AAJ), and was the first to be made a Lifetime Member of the Board of Governors,
Mr. Cusimano has published numerous articles in state and national magazines and contributed to articles in various treatises. He is contributing editor of the two volume Alabama Tort Law book, through the fourth edition and co-edited the six-volume set Litigating Tort Cases. He is one of the authors to Winning Case Preparation published by Trial Guides. He is listed in Best Lawyers of America and is a Life Member in the National Registry of Who’s Who in American Law. Cusimano was the second inductee into the Hall of Fame of the Small Office Practice Section of AAJ. He is a Diplomate of the International Academy of Litigators and The American Board of Trial Advocates. The designation of Diplomat and Champion of Trial Advocacy was bestowed on him by AAJ’s National College of Advocacy. He was inducted as a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and the Alabama Law Foundation. Cusimano served as Chairperson of the National College of Advocacy. He was given the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the Leonard Ring Champion of Justice Award by AAJ.