Ladies of the Jury, Opposing Counsel is Just Like You . . . Except that She’s Much More Successful


When I read articles about quirks of human behavior, I try to think of how I can take advantage of them both defensively and offensively. For example, when I read an article (from the American Society of Trial Consultants’ The Jury Expert magazine) entitled How We Can Help Witnesses Remember More, I consider not only the article’s answers to its titular question for use with helpful witnesses, but also how I can turn the same psychological knowledge around to prevent unhelpful witnesses from rembering more (answer: create auditory or visual distractions).

The excellent articles in The Jury Expert are generally focused on dealing with the irrational oddities of our minds in order to make trial a more rational process. For instance, Anticipate and Influence Juror Reactions to Successful Women and the comments following (Anne Reed, who wrote one of the comments, blogged about the research behind this article back in January) discuss “reduc[ing] female jurors’ feelings of self-threat in response to a successful woman while not diminishing perceptions of competence” and “protect[ing] successful women in the courtroom from suffering from ‘penalties for success’”:

Both male and female jurors are likely to make negative personal attributions about a woman who has achieved success in a traditionally masculine domain. For women jurors, this is often motivated by self-protection. The research reviewed here offers suggestions for how lawyers can mitigate these responses to successful women in the courtroom.

This is a noble and honorable goal if the successful woman is on my team. When she is trying to put my client in a box, however, I don’t have any qualms about using the same research to help the women on the jury hate her.

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0 responses to “Ladies of the Jury, Opposing Counsel is Just Like You . . . Except that She’s Much More Successful”

  1. Mark, as often happens when I read your posts, my first thought is a resolution to stay on your side whenever possible.

    But I actually think that much of the time, a man who tries to intensify distrust between female jurors and a female trial lawyer will find that the technique backfires. One of Elizabeth Parks-Stamm’s points in this article is that if women recognize shared challenges with another woman, their initial self-critical/distrustful reactions can shift to a “we” mentality, and the distrust dissolves. One of the shared challenges women face, of course, is men who make light of their accomplishments, or worse, criticize the accomplishments themselves. Women who think they are watching another woman put down for her accomplishments are at least as likely to be angry — very angry — as to distrust her. I think we likely saw an example of this in the growing passion and anger of Hillary Clinton supporters earlier this year.

    So while Ms. Parks-Stamm’s research does suggest — and life seems to confirm — that many women initially respond to other women’s accomplishments with distrust based on self-criticism, male lawyers who may be helped by this phenomenon will probably do better by letting it do its own work than by trying to help it along.

  2. I didn’t discuss the “how”, and you assumed that I would criticize or make light of madame prosecutor’s accomplishments. My apologies. To the contrary, what I had in mind was sincere praise highlighting madame prosecutor’s hard-earned success in a traditionally masculine domain — it seems from the article that women might most resent an inspiration.

    Are you registered with gravatar.com? Your gravatar should show up instead of the monacled hexagon.

  3. I’m sure you’d be deft; still, for all but the most skillful, I still think this may be a “don’t try this at home” stunt. Your intent isn’t pure here, and as you’ve said elsewhere (or I think you have), that often shows when we don’t know it shows. Many women are pretty good at seeing through double-edged praise.

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