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Nordstrom: Book offers advice on treatment of jurors

Rodney Nordstrom
March 14, 2012
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Indiana Lawyer Commentary

The theme of the book, “Twelve Heroes, One Voice,” is why should jurors care? Why should they care enough to let go of the natural tendency to do nothing? This question is at the heart of every trial. The answer is they all secretly want to become a Jungian archetypal “hero.” The book is about how to make jurors the center of the story. Trial consultants and good trial attorneys have searched endlessly for new ways to engage jurors in the trial story.

As the title suggests, the single most important goal of voir dire is to empower the jurors, to show them that, if chosen, they are going to wield enormous power – by putting a value on someone’s life or deciding what it would take to stop nursing home misconduct.twelve-heroes-cover-1col.jpg

The next most useful bit of advice by author Carl Bettinger is developing and telling your case using the story spine approach: “Once upon a time … And every day… Until one day… And as a result of that … Until, finally … And ever since then …” Our minds are pre-programmed to understand information that is presented in this format. By following this approach, you keep jurors’ attention and your focus on the case theme. Point of view is everything.

Bettinger reminds us that a courtroom is not a friendly place to most. What do jurors first see when they walk into the courtroom? Someone wearing a black robe, a bunch of people, obviously the lawyers, dressed in suits, staring at them as they come in, taking notes, whispering to one another as though inspecting prized cattle at an auction. It’s a very unfriendly, scary environment. The attorney should appreciate this and do whatever he can to ease the discomfort of jurors.

Bettinger makes a distinction between a “case” and a “story.” Your client has a story (not a case) and it is your role to communicate the story, using all the components mentioned above. All human beings yearn to take on the hero’s role and want to feel good (and confident) about their ultimate decision. Most good trial stories focus on a fight for survival and self-actualization. Good stories are about universal truths and must remind jurors of the greatest human accomplishments, not sadness, blame or shame.

He adds that at trial, your role as advocate is transformed into that of mentor, the defendant into a villain, the plaintiff into a brave victim, with the unwitting jury serving the role of hero. He quotes liberally from recent movies and the classics. He also uses transcript clips and illustrations.

Most lawyers fail to recognize that voir dire is not the time for advocacy. Voir dire is the time to show a genuine interest in other human beings simply because they are human beings who have been called upon to provide a great service. “And if you don’t show a genuine interest, if you try to fake it as though it’s a cheap date that you want for a one night stand, they’ll know that.”

Opening statement is time for you to define the story roles of everyone in the courtroom (presumably including the bailiff, court reporter, security, attorneys and judge). Cross- and direct examination furthers character development all the way to closing statement, which allows jurors to write the conclusion of the story allowing them to “save the day.”

This book contains 10 chapters and is 155 pages with appendix published by Trial Guides for $85. Chapter 1 introduces the “Hero-centric” storytelling model. Chapter 2 is about the importance of making the listener (jury) the center of the trial. Chapter 3 is making the trial story user-friendly and Chapter 4 is development and definition of the mentor, villain and victim character role. Chapter 5 is the application, with examples, of the story approach to both criminal and civil trials. Chapter 6 is devoted to dealing with case weaknesses in voir dire. Chapter 7 is opening statement and Chapter 8 is how to conduct direct and cross-examination using the “hero-centered” approach and sequencing witnesses. Chapter 9 is the closing statement: “Do you want just a song or do you want a hit?” Lastly, Chapter 10 is the closing thoughts and reasons to motivate jurors to adopt his approach to your cases.

The strength of the book is that it reminds me that we must continue to focus on giving jurors reasons to like our client and their story. It is a refreshing approach to jury selection where the juror, i.e., the listener, is the focus. It is about how to be a “total” lawyer, using psychology, literature and stories and is not about law books or legal theory. The book’s goal is to tell you how to make jurors want to listen and CARE through the art of effective storytelling. Although his approach is impressive, it is not a panacea in and of itself. It offers a much-needed adjunct to the existing body of work of David Wenner, Don Keenan, David Ball and Rick Friedman. Simply put, the book is all about transforming the jury into the hero.

This book is written for practicing attorneys. It does not offer fanciful legal advice or complex legal strategies and assumes you have those requisite skills by the time you become a trial lawyer. Bettinger, no stranger to big cases, is both a trial attorney and medical doctor; but, it is his understanding of the importance of storytelling that motivates the listener to want to vote for your client. His recent $54 million verdict in a nursing home case gives him credibility.•

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

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  1. Perhaps the lady chief justice, or lady appellate court chief judge, or one of the many female federal court judges in Ind could lead this discussion of gender disparity? THINK WITH ME .... any real examples of race or gender bias reported on this ezine? But think about ADA cases ... hmmmm ... could it be that the ISC actually needs to tighten its ADA function instead? Let's ask me or Attorney Straw. And how about religion? Remember it, it used to be right up there with race, and actually more protected than gender. Used to be. Patrick J Buchanan observes: " After World War II, our judicial dictatorship began a purge of public manifestations of the “Christian nation” Harry Truman said we were. In 2009, Barack Obama retorted, “We do not consider ourselves to be a Christian nation.” Secularism had been enthroned as our established religion, with only the most feeble of protests." http://www.wnd.com/2017/02/is-secession-a-solution-to-cultural-war/#q3yVdhxDVMMxiCmy.99 I could link to any of my supreme court filings here, but have done that more than enough. My case is an exclamation mark on what PJB writes. BUT not in ISC, where the progressives obsess on race and gender .... despite a lack of predicate acts in the past decade. Interested in reading more on this subject? Search for "Florida" on this ezine.

  2. Great questions to six jurists. The legislature should open a probe to investigate possible government corruption. Cj rush has shown courage as has justice Steven David. Who stands with them?

  3. The is an unsigned editorial masquerading as a news story. Almost everyone quoted was biased in favor of letting all illegal immigrants remain in the U.S. (Ignoring that Obama deported 3.5 million in 8 years). For some reason Obama enforcing part of the immigration laws was O.K. but Trump enforcing additional parts is terrible. I have listed to press conferences and explanations of the Homeland Security memos and I gather from them that less than 1 million will be targeted for deportation, the "dreamers" will be left alone and illegals arriving in the last two years -- especially those arriving very recently -- will be subject to deportation but after the criminals. This will not substantially affect the GDP negatively, especially as it will take place over a number of years. I personally think this is a rational approach to the illegal immigration problem. It may cause Congress to finally pass new immigration laws rationalizing the whole immigration situation.

  4. Mr. Straw, I hope you prevail in the fight. Please show us fellow American's that there is a way to fight the corrupted justice system and make them an example that you and others will not be treated unfairly. I hope you the best and good luck....

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