decision making

77 – Gregory Cusimano – Understanding & Utilizing The Jury Bias Model

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 storyThe 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. ReferencingThinking Fast, Thinking Slowby 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 greg@winningworks.com or call his office at 256-543-0400.  

 

Guest Bio:  

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. 

40 – Ken Levinson – Focus Groups and Metaphors

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Ken Levinson, a successful trial attorney who is also very active with his trial consultant focus group practice, for a discussion on how his unique practice is getting big results in the courtroom. Ken selfishly loves his “split practice” primarily because of its process of constant learning which comes with both sides of his practice, noting that he’d never want to give either of them up.

The conversation begins by exploring focus groups, as Ken talks through how they help in cases because lawyers are able to find out what resonates with people and then test it before ever stepping into the courtroom. “Over time, I’ve learned the better approach is to accept what people tell you. Listen, and in a neutral way, find out what’s going on.” Ken goes on to say “I don’t want to fall in love with my case or a witness or a theory without really stepping back and almost looking at your case in a different way” which is exactly what focus groups help him do while pointing to the teachings of Michael Leizerman [link to Michael Leizerman episode] of needing to have a “Zen mind” or a beginners mind. He adds “I think we get lost in the language of being a lawyer and I’ve really tried to train myself to talk like real folks in everyday life about our cases.” Michael then points out how it is incredibly important to be yourself, noting the power that authenticity brings to human communication both inside and out of the courtroom.

After working with so many great lawyers, Michael wonders what Ken has seen separates the good from the elite. Ken points out two factors he’s seen in elite lawyers: 1. They know their cases inside and out and although they may seem to talk very casually about things in the courtroom, they actually work extremely hard; and 2. The better trial lawyers he’s gotten to know are always learning. Ken goes on to point out there are some firms he might do 20+ focus groups for in a given year, and although they have been getting multi-million dollar verdicts for decades now, they are always learning, testing, reading, revising, and thinking about how to improve.

Michael speaks to his own experiences on learning and how over the years, while there are some basic human things that don’t change, many things do change over time and thus, lawyers need to be open to continuing to learn in order to be effective in the courtroom. Ken follows up to describe some of the other things he’s doing to continually get better, such as reading a lot on decision-making, psychology, and metaphors, then discussing what he’s learned with friends and colleagues, testing things for himself in focus groups, case preparations, depositions, and in the courtroom. He also goes to seminars and holds in-house trainings. Ken also discusses some of the ideas he’s learned from R. Rex Parris [link to Rex episode] on metaphors and how he’s been able to incorporate them into his courtroom proceedings.

Talking more about Ken’s experiences with focus groups and testing theories within them, he describes a few exercises he’s used to better understand the imagery that focus group juries associate with their case using simple techniques. Then he takes things a step further to discuss the findings, one-on-one, with the focus group participants. Through this process, he’s discovered many great metaphors and images that have helped his cases as well as some that needed to be tweaked or reworked for a case, noting that it’s better to find out and understand things which can negatively impact your case prior to trial, than during it, of course.

Beyond running his law firm and focus groups, Ken has also written books and articles, which begs the question – how does he have time for all of this? Ken describes his methods of time management which include getting up several hours before his wife and kids, but also includes time blocking and scheduling things based on his own understanding of the best times for him to get work done, which he details more in this episode. Michael also talks through the structures he’s implemented in his life and his firm to help to “move the ball forward” toward accomplishing his goals.

Michael turns the conversation toward what lawyers can do to set themselves up to achieve their goals, whether it is getting a $43 million verdict or a $6 million settlement, to which Ken turns the table a little bit and points out some great advice he had heard from Michael about taking on the right cases and turning away the others. Michael elaborates on this point and discusses the juxtaposition of the normal mentality associated with turning down cases, which really hits the nail on the head in terms of getting more of the types of cases lawyers want to get and building their practice.

Their conversation rounds out in a discussion revolving around the terms Ken has seen come up over and over in focus groups involving trucking cases specifically. Ken talks about terms he’s found to be important to focus groups and juries alike such as “professional driver,” and ideas revolving around vision and forgiveness. Truly insightful information that Ken discusses more in depth, which not only brings perspective to trucking cases at their face value, but also the impact focus groups can have in helping to bring another element of humanity into our cases by getting the perspectives of what’s important in the eyes of others.

 

BACKGROUND

Ken Levinson is a passionate advocate for accident survivors and child safety. For more than 20 years, he has represented disenfranchised clients against corporate giants. By using the law, the court system and his skill as a lawyer, his goal is to level the playing field for those facing the most challenging times of their lives.

 

Leadership

  • Former Section Chair of the American Association for Justice  Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability Section
  • Vice Chair of the American Association for Justice Trucking Group
  • Board Member of the American Association for Justice National College of Advocacy
  • Co-chair of Overcoming Jury Bias Litigation Group
  • Regional Coordinator of the American Association for Justice Chicago Student Trial Advocacy Competition
  • American Association of Justice Board of Advocates
  • American Association for Justice Law Schools Committee
  • American Association for Justice Voter Protection Committee
  • Committee Chair of the American Association for Justice Litigation Group Coordination Committee
  • Press Advisory Board American Association for Justice
  • Chair Chicago Bar Association Solo & Small Firm Practice Committee

Ken also serves as chair of the section’s Practice Resources Committee, which compiles documents such as pleadings, research, expert reports and other information that might be helpful to fellow trial lawyers. As part of AAJ, Ken acts as Secretary of Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway, and Premises Liability Section and Chair of the newsletter committee; he has served as Education/CLE Vice-Chair of the Trucking Litigation Group (2014–2015) and Co-chair of Publications Committee (2013-2014). Additional memberships include the Chicago Bar Association, where Ken has also been the Solo & Small Firm Practice Committee Chair from 2009-2019, Vice Chair (2008 – 2009), and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, where he is currently a member of its Board of Managers. Under ITLA, Ken is also a co-chair of the legislative committee. In 2010, Ken was elected to serve a three-year term on the Trial Lawyers College Alumni Board. He is currently serving on the editorial board of The Warrior, the Trial Lawyers College magazine.

Ken has written numerous articles for prestigious lawyer publications and spoken at dozens of conventions for trial lawyers and American Bar Association organizations. Ken also recently appeared on an episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast.

 

Honors and Awards

Ken is currently the Vice Chair of the American Association of Justice Trucking Group. Ken also formerly served as Chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability Section and  Illinois Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice, a designation that carries Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) Board status. He has been recognized by Leading Lawyers and Super Lawyers magazines as one of the top attorneys in Illinois, including the Super Lawyers Top 100 in 2012, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. He is the co-author of Litigating Major Automobile Injury and Death Cases, a two-volume reference series designed to help attorneys build strong cases for their clients by highlighting real-life case studies related to Major Auto Injury and Death. The book is published by AAJ Press/Thomson Reuters.

Named one of The 40 Lawyers Under 40 to Watch in Illinois by the Law Bulletin Publishing Company, Ken is among a select group of trial attorneys that has graduated from legendary lawyer Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College, which is dedicated to training and educating lawyers who represent people against corporate and government oppression. Ken is one of only 100 trial lawyers from Illinois selected for The American Trial Lawyers Association, where membership is by invitation only.

 

Education

After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Hobart College in 1989 and his Juris Doctor in 1992 from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Ken was appointed an Assistant Illinois Attorney General, representing state agencies and employees in civil matters, including both personal injury and civil rights cases. He has been admitted to practice before the Illinois Supreme Court and the Northern District of Illinois, United States District Court since 1992. Levinson is also admitted to the Federal Trial Bar.

 

Personal

Ken volunteers his time and resources to a variety of community and charitable organizations in the Chicago area, such as sponsoring the Tristin Speaks Benefit, which raised funds for autism awareness. Ken is a former member of The Citizens’ Council of LaGrange, a non-partisan community group that promotes better government through the recruiting and evaluation of candidates for local public office, having co-chaired the Council’s Qualifications Committee. Ken participated in the 39-mile, two-day Avon Breast Cancer Walk and the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer. Ken also supports Art in Motion, an event hosted by the Associate Board to raise funds for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, now known as the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

Ken is an area native, born in Chicago and currently living in LaGrange, IL. He is happily married and the father of three boys, keeping him very active in youth and sports-related activities. One of his favorite pastimes is to go with his wife to their sons’ high school varsity games and in-state and out of state tournaments for basketball and volleyball.

Ken can be reached at all hours via email: Ken@LevinsonStefani.com

 

RESOURCES

How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market by Gerald Zaltman

Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal About the Minds of Consumers by Gerald Zaltman

Metaphors We Live By author George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

 

 

36 – David Ball – Finding the Alignment – Understanding What Jurors Want

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with a special guest, Dr. David Ball. David is a trial consultant, speaker, and one of the “fathers” of the book “The Reptile in the MIST.” His name and his books have been mentioned on numerous episodes not only Michael Cowen, but many of our Trial Lawyer Nation guests. With several books of David’s to choose from, Michael can’t help but note how “David Ball on Damages 3” has been very useful in helping him craft opening statements and serving as an outline for many trials. He also highly recommends all trial lawyers have this book within arms-reach of their desk (more on this later in the episode). And for those trial lawyers who don’t know David personally, it is important to also note he has probably done more good for trial lawyers than anyone else in the industry.

Having started down his path many years ago, David’s mission of trying to help trial attorneys make complicated things clear, originally came from his background in theatre, where much of what he had learned in theatre has been extremely useful for trial lawyers. In fact, working with a more classical repertoire theatre with works from Shakespeare, he wondered how he could make those plays crystal clear for the audience who is listening to it and how it might relate to the legal industry. His conclusion? “I realized lawyers have 2 problems: 1. They’re boring as hell and 2. They’re not very clear about what they’re talking about.” Today David describes what he does as helping to strategize cases to maximize the principles of what we’ve learned in the neurosciences and apply it to how people really make conclusions, how decisions are made, how we know things, and how logic has very little to do with any of it. Essentially, working as a bridge between the neurosciences and the courtroom.

So, how do we get jurors to see things the way we want them to? Logic doesn’t deal with the law school version of tell them your case, they’ll understand your case, and if you’re in the right, they’ll give your client a just verdict. Justice has nothing to do with how people make decisions. How do we translate that into things you’re allowed to do in trial and in a way that will motivate jurors to do what we want them to do? David says, people don’t make their decisions on the basis of “justice,” but rather justice is simply the result of something you think you want. He goes on to explain why trial lawyers need to look at what they’ve got and then put this “stew” together into something someone REALLY wants, for it to end the way we want it to. The whole process of trial, as David describes it, is an alignment.

David continues to describe this alignment by combining solid research along with all the things he’s learned in theatre about what real storytelling is. The fundamental thing about The Reptile, he describes, is by getting the jurors to want themselves to be safe and live in a safe world, that becomes their want. He also points out that in order to get their want, he also needs to get his client’s “want,” which is money. Michael adds to this by stating the only power the jury has in the courtroom is to give or deny money in the case. David goes on to say that if the attorney is presenting their case well, jurors will understand if they give a good verdict it will make their world safer, but also giving a bad verdict will make their world a more dangerous place than it is now. In other words, once the jurors walk into the courtroom, they will be walking out with either a safer world or a more dangerous world, but it will never be the same way as when they walked in. Furthermore, David explains when you ask a client why they are doing the case, not only will they say it’s because they need the money (compensation) but they also want to make sure this won’t happen to anyone else. To expand on his point, David shares an example from his early years watching the trial of a case involving a wealthy woman in North Carolina, who was rear-ended and clearly didn’t need the compensation from the case. The answer the woman gave him when he asked her why she was going through with the case, even though it was painful, is priceless. And it helps us understand why even the smallest cases are important in making the world a safer place. David also talks about the points he describes to the jurors regarding their potential complicities in what they allow the defense to get away with and the affects it will have on others who face the same situations in the future.

Which leads Michael to pose the question, “how do we figure out what the jurors want?” David goes through a laundry list of things we know about what jurors want, including through focus groups and the neurosciences what motivates us to want something. Boiled down to its core, David explains this with a great example of teenage boys as jurors, which will shock you and make complete sense. And he wraps up with describing the fundamental drives that keep us alive, as well as the impact of disrespect and humiliation.

The topic shifts at one point to talk about when the other side brings in what they call an “independent medical examiner,” three lies in one person’s title, David jokes (sort of). Rather than disagreeing with their conclusion, David proposes you show what they did wrong in their methodology, to show they purposely arrived at the wrong conclusion. He goes on to show how the right types of questions posed to your own experts can further point out the flaws in their conclusions without the need to call the defense’s independent expert a liar. Michael also adds how it can be very effective to discuss the idea of a defense’s witness as “independent,” when they’ve been picked and paid for by the defense, in helping the jury not feel like their intelligence is being disrespected. David continues to talk about the difference between describing the defense as someone who may lie in order to protect themselves vs. someone who is disrespecting the jury by insulting their intelligence and the impact this can have on a jury. He goes on to point out how it is analogous to the difference between a doctor lying to a patient, where the patient might be being disrespected but the juror is not vs. a doctor getting on the witness stand and deliberately misleads the jury, and as such, disrespecting them.

One of the things David describes as loving about what he’s been able to do, is when he started writing his first theatre for trial book, there was nothing. Nobody was doing anything in the way of teaching major overall strategy and there were certainly no books on damages or doing it. He’d like to think that the Damages book helped give rise to this whole other industry. In one hand he should hate it, he created all his own competitors, and on the other hand it is the greatest feeling in the world for him.

David also suggests for every attorney to page through their Damages 3 book on a consistent basis to examine it through the lens of the case you’re working on currently, in order to see things you never saw before. He suggests this, mainly because so much information is lost after seminars and reading other books, because the only things you likely retain are the things which pertain to the case you’re working on right now.

Michael and David move on to the topic of the principles of persuasion and how David has brought his theatre experience into the courtroom. Revisiting the idea of “real storytelling,” David talks through the actual history of storytelling and how it has evolved over time. He points out why you have to make people want to hear the next part of the story, AKA “narrative thrust,” using “dramatic tension” to create tension between this moment and the next moment, and the next moment could be an hour away or two minutes away. Crafting what David describes as “forwards” where everyone sees the anticipated moment in the story and wants to hear it for themselves. He also points out these forwards are very case specific, very particular to the story, and it is a relatively sophisticated thing to do for people who are not natural born storytellers, but you can learn to do it. And he describes why the context in storytelling and where you put pieces of information in the story matter significantly to shaping the story.

Michael and David touch briefly on social media and a trial lawyer’s first amendment right, where it is important to note David believes if you are a trial lawyer, you have accepted a fiduciary responsibility to your client which trumps your ability to have free speech. He also believes society has become so divisive these days on social media and now face to face, where we now have the challenge of bringing both sides together to fight for an even greater cause. David uses the example of 2 people fighting, but when someone comes in and tries to do harm to them, they will both unite because they are both in danger and need each other to save themselves. The heart of such a scenario, is the aim of every trial lawyer when working with diverse juries.

Digging deeper into David’s theatre background, Michael talks about how he has yet to see a trial lawyer facing a potentially multi-million-dollar trial rehearse as much as a community theatre where 30 people may be in the audience. David shares how being a trial lawyer is the only area of public performance where they don’t rehearse. He goes on to suggest you cannot fully rehearse on your own and, a full rehearsal, means a dress rehearsal. In the same way you cannot have football practice without eventually having a scrimmage with another side. When you are on the stage, you have a million other things on your mind, you’re being “Hamlet.” When you’re a lawyer, you’ve got your peers, the judge, and the jury all watching you. It distracts your attention from where it needs to be, so you seem very nervous. You cannot be a leader of human beings when you’re very nervous. And the best lawyers are leaders of human beings.

The podcast ends with a discussion on charisma in the courtroom as well as David’s important work in the criminal defense industry. And after spending this episode with David, it’s clear to see why so many trial lawyers look to him as a powerhouse in the industry.

“Please note the TLN19 discount code mentioned in this show has now expired.”

 

BACKGROUND

David Ball, who wrote trial advocacy’s best-selling strategy bookDavid Ball on Damagesis a litigation researcher and strategist with North Carolina’s Malekpour & Ball Consulting (JuryWatch, Inc.). He is the nation’s most influential jury consultant, communications expert, and advocacy teacher. His training is in science, engineering, and small-group communications, and he is a 30-year veteran of the professional theater.

Dr. Ball and his partner, lawyer/consultant Artemis Malekpour (artemis@consultmmb.com), consult on civil and criminal cases across the country. They are routinely credited with turning the most difficult cases into significant victories. They are the nation’s only trial consultants qualified to safely and comprehensively guide attorneys with Reptilian, David Ball on Damages, and David Ball on Criminal Defense methods and strategy. Their hundreds of brainstorming sessions – “WorkDays” – have become the gold standard for case-strategy development.

In addition to David Ball on Damages, Dr. Ball’s other landmark advocacy books include Theater Tips & Strategies for Jury Trials, Reptile (with Don Keenan), Theater for Trial (with Joshua Karton), Reptile in the MIST, and David Ball on Criminal Defense.

Dr. Ball has taught law students at North Carolina, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Roger

Williams, Loyola, and Campbell schools of law, and at Duke Law as Senior Lecturer. He’s an award-winning teacher for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and the American Association for Justice’s National College of Advocacy. He has long been among the nation’s most in-demand of CLE speakers. His favorite job was taxi driver in the 1970s in Stamford, CT, and his Daddy was a Catskill Mountains bootlegger during Prohibition.

 

Dr. Ball is also a pioneer in adapting film and theater methods into trial techniques. His theater/film students have won Oscars, Obies, Tonies, and Emmies; his scripts have been staged at professional theaters off-Broadway, throughout North America, and overseas. He helped to lead the Guthrie Theater, as well as Carnegie-Mellon University’s renowned theater conservatory and, as Chair, Duke University’s Drama Department. His best-selling film and theater training book, Backwards and Forwards, has been the field’s standard every year since 1984, and is now in uses by trail lawyers as well. His crossover books, Theater Tips and Strategies for Jury Trials along with the new Theater for Trial, are the standards for the use of film and theater techniques in litigation.

Dr. Ball also wrote the cult classic film Hard Rock Zombies, though he made up for it by writing Swamp Outlaw, a novel about Civil War Era Lumbee hero Henry Berry Lowery, now under option for a motion picture. (TV viewers: Dr. Ball and Dr. Bull deny each other’s existence.)

 

RESOURCES

Reptile: The 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff’s Revolution

35 – R. Rex Parris – Cognitive Science and the Persuasion of Jurors

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down an accomplished trial lawyer, speaker, and Mayor of Lancaster, CA, R. Rex Parris, for a conversation revolving around the intersection of cognitive science and the persuasion of jurors. Having acquired his knowledge over the course of his career, Rex has been able to leverage his deep understanding of cognitive science in obtaining dozens of 7, 8, and 9-figure verdicts and settlements, along with a historic and record-breaking $370,000,000 defamation jury verdict.

Michael’s curiosity starts the conversation off by asking Rex what he did do to obtain the skills he’s developed; which Rex breaks down his journey into its simplest form stating he first had to learn it was a “skill.” Many individuals think there are only a certain number of people who are born to be trial lawyers when the reality is they are just skills to be learned. Rex goes as far as to say that anybody who gets through law school has the capacity to learn those skills and do a magnificent job in the courtroom. He shares how he went on to Trial Lawyers College and continued on to attend many CLE seminars, public speaking and voice seminars, and began studying a lot of cognitive science, all of which to learn how people make decisions, how to persuade people, and how to interact and engage people. Michael shares how the more people he meets at the top of the industry, the more he sees the commonality of their constant desire to learn more.

Focusing on the things Rex has learned through his studies of cognitive science, Michael turns his attention to finding out the things most helpful to Rex in the courtroom. As Rex sees it, everything from where he stands, to where he looks, and what he does with his hands and body is important. He goes on to talk about keeping his fear level down by controlling his heartbeat, which he knows he wants to keep between 90-100 bpm in order to stay in “the zone.”   He also knows how to lower his heart rate when it goes over 100 through a technique called “combat breathing” along with taking note of several other observations within the moment, in order to snap back into the present refreshed and ready to go. To that point, Michael shares how when he’s in a trial, he tries to feel the joy of being in trial and let the outcome take care of itself stating “the more I want to win and worry about the outcome, the less I trust the jurors,” which inevitably comes through in your body language or eye contact. Instead, Michael purposely decides he’s going to trust the jurors to do the right thing, and it always seems to work out better.

Rex then discusses his views on utilizing a classic reversal in the courtroom where he describes it as “in every scene of every movie or play there is a reversal of value” (using the example of how Star Wars starts in the desert and in the next scene you’re in the empire) the greater the contrast the better. In the courtroom, Rex talks through how he uses a lottery ticket analogy, where his client holds the “winning ticket” to the super big jackpot and the only thing he needs to claim it is to give up some things. He then proceeds to talk through all the things his client has to give up, stating everything that has been given up as a result of their injury without talking about the things that have been done to his client. The reversal then comes into play at the end, where Rex turns to the jury and asks if any of them want that ticket. They continue to discuss the differences of what a client has gone through and what they’ve lost, and Rex recognizes that most lawyers have been trained to present cases in a pain and suffering context as to what’s been done to their client but, he points out, in most cultures, “bad stuff” doesn’t have a value. Well-being is what equals wealth in America, citing what Steve Jobs would have given for a pancreas that worked. Which is why during the trial, Rex tends to focus on the parts of his client’s well-being which have been taken away. He also notes that juries are also much more inclined to compensate a plaintiff for things that have been taken away or the things they have been denied, rather than the things that have happened to them. Rex also goes so far and will sometimes even tell juries NOT to give his client a dime for the pain and suffering, just compensate his client for what was taken from them. The conversation continues as they talk about how you as a lawyer discover what exactly was taken from your client. Rex takes this well beyond the usual “get to know your client” and shares a technique even Michael is somewhat surprised at, but can’t wait to try. Rex points out, when it comes to relationships, “we’re not nearly as complex as we like to think we are.”

Keeping on the same path, Michael asks Rex how exactly he presents what’s been taken from his clients. Rex discusses why you don’t present it through your client, you present it through their relatives and neighbors in an effort to find the signals of trust for the jury that cuts through the general noise of a trial. He goes on to explain how there is no better way to send those signals of trust than through those who know your client best. As they discuss the topic further, Rex also reveals why he strives not to keep witnesses on the stand too long and tends to use a lot of video depositions to keep the case moving forward. In fact, he surprises Michael by sharing he uses as much video as possible when he goes to trial and his strategy to do so comes from learning “that the shorter the trial the bigger the verdict tends to be.”

Rex also shares some of the techniques and strategies he and his firm have been developing in the last few years based on a conversation he had with Robert Sapolsky, a neuroendocrinologist from Berkley and the author of “Behave – The Biology of Humans at our best and worst.” He later shares his technique for helping the jury value all that has been taken away from his client by relating those things to diamonds, and not just in his closing, but all throughout the trial starting in voir dire.

The conversation shifts to look at how lawyers don’t want their experience to work against them in looking that much better than the other side, as Michael puts it “you don’t want to look like Goliath.” And while Rex used to subscribe to this thinking, he has learned to move past that and focus solely on his credibility in the courtroom when it comes to the jury and being able to maintain his credibility throughout the trial. Rex explains that he is more than willing to admit in front of the jury when he is wrong, such as when an objection comes up and he realizes they are right, which helps to maintain his credibility. He also goes as far as memorizing the evidence section codes, not for the benefit of the judge, but again for the jury, so they can continue to look to him as the most knowledgeable and credible source in the courtroom.

Michael and Rex end the podcast by discussing extremely valuable topics such as: using the Warren Buffet method in regards to case selection; mind mapping to prepare for trial; visuals in the courtroom; why Rex avoids using “tricks”; the most important thing Rex does every day and how he balances work, life, and being a city Mayor; insights from Rex’s recent case which resulted in a $41.6M verdict; the extraordinary measures Rex’s firm has taken to practice EVERYTHING; the skills every lawyer needs to learn; Rex’s views on neckties (which is actually surprisingly insightful); and so much more.

“Please note the TLN19 discount code mentioned in this show has now expired.”

 

 

 

BACKGROUND

Pursuing a career that helps others has always been R. Rex Parris’ first choice and for good reason. Growing up, Rex’s father lost his leg in a motorcycle accident because of someone else’s negligence. He witnessed firsthand what happens to a family when the pillar of the household is severely injured through no fault of their own. This tragic event inspired Rex to pursue a life that helps people overcome the physical and financial burdens that result from any kind of accident.

Rex never had it easy growing up. His father left at a young age and his mother worked as a waitress to support him and his three brothers. They often had to collect welfare to make ends meet. Rex dropped out of high school and got a job as a busboy, but shortly after started using drugs and nearly ended up in jail. When he realized he had to make a change, he went back to school and turned his life around.

In 1977, Rex received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law & Society from the University of California Santa Barbara, where he was a member of the prestigious UCSB Scholars’ Program.  After receiving his Juris Doctor in 1980 from Southwestern School of Law in Los Angeles, he was certified as a Master Advocate in 1991 by The National Institute for Trial Advocacy in Washington, D.C.  He has been a member of the California Bar since 1980 and is a member of several federal and appellate courts and multiple trial attorney associations.

In 1985, Rex and his wife Carrol founded PARRIS Law Firm, a personal injury law firm that has helped thousands of families recover from life-altering accidents. PARRIS Law Firm also helps aggrieved workers who have been wronged by their employers, and those affected by environmental catastrophes. Rex handles a wide variety of other cases as well, ranging from class actions to products liability and business torts.

Since its founding, Rex has tried over 50 civil jury trials in courts throughout California and has recovered more than $1.4 Billion in verdicts and settlements for his clients. He made history by being the first lawyer to obtain a million-dollar verdict in Kern County. Years later in 2009, Rex was lead counsel in obtaining a historic defamation jury verdict of $370 million against George Marciano, the founding designer of Guess jeans. Not only has he faced off against some of the world’s largest companies, he consistently wins.

At the start of 2018, Rex went into back-to-back trials and totaled a combined $94 million for his clients in a matter of just 90 days. During both of these cases, Rex worked tirelessly for years and demanded justice on behalf of his clients, obtaining $52,708,374 for two brothers and $41,634,170 for a young quadriplegic whose life will never be the same because of someone else’s actions. Although these clients’ lives will never be whole again, Rex never stopped fighting to restore their well-being. The strength and courage he showed during these trials allowed jurors to hear the real stories of the people behind the lawsuits.

Another one of Rex’s most notable cases involves the largest gas well blowout in U.S. history. Rex, along with thousands of residents of Porter Ranch, are still demanding answers almost three years after a massive gas well blowout was discovered near their neighborhood. Gas was injected underground by Southern California Gas Company into illegal wells. A well experienced a massive failure and blowout in October 2015. This was predicted by Southern California Gas based on public records. Public health officials still do not know if it is safe for people to live there. Residents have been experiencing major health problems, and many have relocated because of the dangerous gases contaminating the air. Rex and his team are dedicated to helping these residents get the financial compensation they need to get their lives back on track after this terrible catastrophe. In November 2018, the California Court of Appeal Second District called into question why Southern California Gas Company and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office rushed into a plea deal that denied criminal restitution to the victims. Rex will see that they justify why the victims wait to recover their losses when the constitution says otherwise.

In addition to personal injury, environmental and employment cases, Rex has also served as counsel on cases involving the California Voting Rights Act. In 2012, Rex served as co-counsel and advisor to attorney Kevin Shenkman and Milton Grimes for a lawsuit against Palmdale, California in order to amend its election process to district voting. This lawsuit was on behalf of the diverse population of the Antelope Valley to have better representation in its city officials.

In November 2018, Rex obtained another successful verdict for the people of Pico Neighborhood in Santa Monica. The judge ruled that Santa Monica’s elections were intentionally designed to discriminate against minority voters. The Plaintiffs fought for Pico Neighborhood to have equal representation on the Santa Monica City Council to ensure accountability for the City’s actions. This ruling will allow the residents of the Pico Neighborhood to finally be heard.

PARRIS was the first law firm to file a class action lawsuit against Southern California Edison for starting the historically catastrophic Woolsey Fire in November 2018. The Plaintiffs are seeking economic and non-economic damages inflicted upon homeowners, renters, and businesses. Hundreds of people lost everything, and it is Rex’s mission to help restore the balance in these people’s lives.

As a successful civil justice attorney, entrepreneur, speaker, and published author, Rex is highly sought after to speak both nationally and internationally. Rex speaks at trial attorney seminars across the country, where he often teaches about the intersection of cognitive science and the persuasion of jurors. He always prepares for trial by using the latest science in persuasion skills. He regularly shares this knowledge as a guest lecturer at Loyola, Pepperdine, and Baylor Law Schools as well as state bar associations across the country.

In the midst of growing his practice into a legal powerhouse, Rex became the third directly-elected mayor of his hometown of Lancaster, California. Since his initial election, he has been re-elected three times, receiving 67% of the popular vote in 2016. Within two years of taking office, Lancaster’s crime rate plummeted 32% and gang violence declined by 81%. Rex has revitalized Lancaster’s historic downtown district and has been universally praised for establishing a family and business-friendly atmosphere. In 2013, Lancaster was named the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation’s Most Business-Friendly City in Los Angeles County for the second time in six years.

Rex travels around the world to share his vision of making Lancaster the Alternative Energy Capital of the World, and his successes in this arena have repeatedly garnered worldwide media attention. In October 2018, Rex traveled to Australia to be the international keynote speaker for the Cities Power Partnership Summit, Australia’s leading local government climate change forum. In partnership with Solar City, Rex successfully made City Hall the first building to use all solar power. The benefits were instant, as the cost of power dropped by half for the municipal building. Within two years, the technology was saving the city of Lancaster tens of thousands of dollars in utility costs and brought in close to $400,000. In 2017, the California State Senate designated the city of Lancaster as an Alternative Energy Research Center of Excellence.

As mayor, Rex launched a dynamic economic development division that aggressively pursued and successfully attracted manufacturing giants BYD and Morton Manufacturing, creating hundreds of jobs for the community. After gaining Morton Manufacturing, the city of Lancaster attracted high-tech manufacturing company Innovative Coatings Technology Corporation, which also brought new jobs that contributed greatly to the local economy. Rex’s economic development division continues to transform Lancaster through its Medical Main Street, LED Streetlight Conversion, and Green Energy Public Transportation initiatives. After partnering with IBM Watson the City of Lancaster projections for 2019 are for an additional 45-50% reduction in crime with the use of artificial software and technology. GQ magazine designated him one of America’s 10 most influential Mayors.

Rex also focuses his energy on philanthropy. He and his wife Carrol are the founders of the Parris Institute of Professional Development at Pepperdine Law School, and he is frequently a featured speaker and on the board of Gerry Spence’s famed Trial Lawyers’ College. In 2001 the high school district named the newest school R. Rex Parris High school in the city of Palmdale. The primary mission of R. Rex Parris High School is to serve those students who are significantly behind in meeting their high school graduation requirements so they can still graduate on time. He is the founder of a number of local charities including Lancaster Child Abuse Task Force, Antelope Valley War on Gangs, and Valley Volunteers Program. His law firm has a sister brand called PARRIS Cares, where he and his team focus on making a positive difference in the Antelope Valley through charities and local organizations.

Rex is a green energy champion, economic hero, and one of the most successful practicing attorneys and victim’s rights advocates in California. In addition to all of this, he has found the time to provide assistance and startup funding for a biotech company called Carthronix.  A true champion of justice, Rex will continue to innovate and work tirelessly in everything he does to improve the service and results of his community, clients, and family.

 

RESOURCES

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
By Chris Voss with Tahl Raz

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
By Simon Sinek

In the Line of Fire: How to Handle Tough Questions When It Counts
by Jerry Weissman

 

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