This post was inspired by a recent encounter I had with a young, inexperienced attorney who told me she did not care about research results; instead, she preferred to base her decisions on her past experiences. Wow! Hearing this statement was shocking, in and of itself, but hearing it from a young person was, in some ways, more shocking than hearing from an older person, of whom it could be said was “set in her ways.” I am a social scientist who conducts research. I use research results to formulate my opinions. I try, when I am allowed to speak freely, to educate my clients, all of whom are attorneys, about the applicability of research results to human behavior. In the unfortunate encounter I had with this uninformed, closed minded attorney, I was attempting to explain the decades of research results (much of which has been conducted by legal scholars, I might add) that shows people make up their minds quickly; people hold their attitudes about subjects important to them for a long time; and most important, no one changes their long held, strong beliefs just because we wish they would. I attempted to explain these well known phenomena to the young associate attorney during the process of selecting a jury in which many potential jurors were dismissed because they stated they could not be fair and impartial as it pertained to the case. The judge correctly dismissed these jurors because, in addition to over 50 years of social science and legal research on the topic of jury decision making, the judge is well versed in Florida laws that require all judges to dismiss any potential juror who states any form of bias about the case. My clients were, surprisingly, not familiar with the laws pertaining to jury selection in Florida and they were challenging the judge on his decision to excuse the biased jurors, incorrectly believing they could “rehabilitate” the biased jurors into people who would be suitable for their case. In addition to irritating the judge, whose decision was, at least to me, final and not open for debate, my clients were absolutely wrong. I guess I could have let it go, so to speak, but I believe one of my duties as a jury consultant is to educate my clients about human behavior. Jurors, after all, are humans, and as a result, they make decisions just like everyone else (that is, according to research they do!). I attempted to explain that, once a juror states he/she cannot make a fair and impartial decision about the case, there is nothing any lawyer can do to “rehabilitate” the person, thereby forcing him/her to go along with views contrary to those they have stated out loud, in a public forum, in the courthouse. My attempt at educating my ignorant client was met with derision. The young attorney shouted, “I don’t care about research! I just want to win this case!” to which I replied, “Well, I guess you don’t mind being wrong.” Case closed. And mind closed too!
Sticking one’s head in the sand and digging in one’s heels when faced with new information are two bad behaviors. Melissa related this story to me upon her return from the courtroom and it amazes me as much as it does her. I don’t know whether it is because this attorney is young, and as such, she has not lost cases she should have won or won cases she should have lost, but she clearly doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. And, she doesn’t care. Perhaps it is because of a tendency for some less experienced attorneys to not want to hear that they don’t know something, meaning they would have to work a bit harder to learn information which is not being spoon fed to them. Beyond that, this encounter raises an interesting question about how people dismiss “research” with no comprehension of what “research” entails. Law degrees are not research based degrees. Social science education requires considerable expertise in research, particularly at the doctoral level Melissa achieved. Social science provides considerable information to be used in practical ways by legal practitioners, at least, those who are savvy. Whether the source is psychology, sociology, communications, or even research by legal academics, the information is there to be used so that people do not have to learn the hard way one experience at a time. That is about as easy as it gets. To not know the law on rehabilitation of jurors is inexcusable. To show to all (the judge, the clients, the opposition) that you don’t know the law is foolish. And, it wastes energy, emotions, and focus at a critical time in the trial. Especially when an expert, like Melissa, is providing the information, the better strategy would be to listen and learn. It is, after all, why Melissa is being paid to consult at the trial!