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 Old doesn’t mean bad, just potentially outdated.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.•


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


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.