When is the Last Time You Learned Something?

One of the strangest objections I have heard, relatively often, during my career as a jury/trial/litigation consultant goes something like this: “Well, I have been a VERY successful trial lawyer for many, many years and I have never, ever, hired a trial consultant. What in the world could I possibly learn from you, or another so called jury expert, that I don’t already know?”. Wow! Talk about being closed minded! Thinking that one knows everything there is to know about human behavior, jury decision making, group dynamics, or cognitive psychology, social psychology (particularly when, as an attorney, one has zero training or expertise in any of these areas) is the epitome, in my opinion, of ignorance. To go a step further with this premise, thinking that one knows everything there is to know about anything is not only arrogant, it is absolutely incorrect. I have been a student of psychology since 11th grade, yet, I have so much to learn. I read publications about new and innovative research, the findings of which, of course, were never known until they were published. I would never have the audacity to state that I know everything there is about psychology, including results of research that has not even been published! If that isn’t enough of an example, here’s another one: music. I have been a musician for 56 years; that’s right, 56 years. But, guess what? I still take music lessons! Why? Because I don’t know everything there is to know about music! Not to mention that my teacher, a professional musician, knows a whole lot more than I do, despite being considerably younger than me. Any attorney who truly believes that he/she knows everything about the law, our legal system, how judges and juries make decisions, or anything else, is someone I will be unable to help. There are a lot of things I can do to help attorneys win their cases, but everything I do requires their willingness to be open minded and learn something new. When is the last time you learned something new?

This phenomenon exists in many contexts, but given that Melissa and I have spent decades working with attorneys, it hits us from time to time, right between the eyes.  One of my college professors told me that a sign of intelligence is knowing what you don’t know.  I think about this whenever I hear the words “What are you going to teach me?”.  One thing we know about conducting mock jury research is that we are going to learn something – we just don’t know what it will be.  And, if our clients are honest, they will admit that they always learn something also!  I wonder if this “What are you going to teach me?” isn’t just a boastful response, but one that is a defensive mechanism indicating that they can’t risk not knowing it all or that the opinions they have given a client might prove to be wrong, in other words, said out of fear.  It is not a question of second guessing, but rather, of being open to hearing other perspectives.  I wonder if they are fearful of not being right.  But, isn’t it better to find out if you are right (or wrong) when it “doesn’t count” in a mock trial than in a real trial?  I have always considered our collective expertise, and Melissa’s expertise specifically, or that of any (good) trial consultant, to be complementary to the trial lawyer, not duplicative, not redundant, not adverse.  There are some trial consultants who argue with clients and try, themselves, to be the loudest voice in the room.  We have worked with many successful attorneys (the less successful ones don’t have the cases that warrant hiring us), and while it is sometimes difficult for them to get past their initial hesitations, they learn things that help them help their clients.  We’ve had one client tell us he didn’t know how to implement our suggestions and that he couldn’t comprehend the findings.  He retired soon thereafter.  “What are you going to teach me?” has been a roadblock keeping some attorneys from ever hiring us, or any trial consultant.  One of Magnus’ first clients said it a different way.  He said, “My client hired me because they think I know how to try cases, which I’ve been doing a long time.  How can I tell them I need someone to help me try a case?”  Our response was, “You are the expert in the law and legal procedure.  We’re the experts in human behavior and human decision making.  Together we’re a good team.”  That did the trick – we got the case. We’re writing this because  these words raised their ugly heads again recently and Megan heard them for the first time.  We had to explain to her that if someone’s head is stuck in the sand, it is hard to take it out.  Me, I learn things daily.  They might be small or they might be large, but deciding that one won’t learn, or accept new information, is a sign of something disturbing.


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