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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. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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