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Book review: 'The Science of Attorney Advocacy'

Rodney Nordstrom
November 21, 2012
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nordstromcover1123-1col.jpgUnlike other books I have recently reviewed, the book “The Science of Attorney Advocacy targets a different type of reader. If you are a curious law student or devoted trial consultant wanting to know more about trial advocacy and how it interfaces with social science research, this book will interest you. If you are a trial lawyer or professor and want a quick overview of courtroom and trial psychology protocol, this is a readable introductory.

The book has six chapters plus an introduction covering a wide range of secondary topics: attorney demeanor, verbal communication, paralinguistics (study of pitch, volume and intonation), kinesic communications (study of body movement, gestures and facial expressions), attorney-client relationships and attorney storytelling. It consists of 298 pages and costs around $50.

Each chapter examines relevant research literature to see what commonly held beliefs are actually supported and which ones are not. This overview is then followed by recommendations and conclusions. Each chapter is like a sprint through the mountains of social science research literature underlying much of what we know or believe about the role of the various facets of courtroom persuasion. For example, the chapter on attorney demeanor analyzes likability, honesty, fairness and credibility and the likely effect these have on a juror. The authors then examine the social science research to see what part of trial advocacy is supported or not supported by the literature. Each chapter subtopic is kind of like a “MythBusters” for the trial attorney.

No book is perfect; all have some weakness. I was disappointed that most of the cited research was relatively old by research standards. Old doesn’t mean bad, just potentially outdated. Although the reference section boasts an impressive 900-plus citations, most of the cited sources are pre-2005. There has been a huge amount of research published since 2005 that could easily have been cited. There are a few reference throw-ins after 2005, as if more recent pieces were tossed in to make the book seem more comprehensive than it actually is. The most glaring absences in this reference section are the ubiquitous “Reptile by David Ball and Don Keenan and “Rules of the Road by Rick Friedman.

Authors Jessica Finley and Bruce Sales, each with J.D. and Ph.D. degrees, present an even balance of the released research findings and adopt a “just the facts ma’am” approach. In the end, the reader is left a little overwhelmed because of the point/counterpoint style of the research findings. It should not surprise the reader that not all trial-related research yields consistent black and white results.

What the reader will not find are sweeping revelations, conclusions or insights. There are no easy answers telling the trial lawyer what he should do to maximize effectiveness with jurors. In fact, the book shows trial effectiveness depends on many complex human and situational factors. While Findley and Sales have done a terrific job of summarizing the classic social science research studies up through 2005, the topics remain perplexing to the advocate trying to make sense of it all. This book, indirectly, highlights the limitations that can be made about human perception and decision making. In the end, jury selection remains largely an enigma.•

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Rodney Nordstrom Ph.D., J.D., is a trial consultant with his company Litigation Simulation Services (www.litsim.com) located in Peoria, Ill. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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