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You Need Emotional Intelligence

The Art of Storytelling in the Courtroom

movie scene

Atticus Finch, Vincent Gambini, and Elle Woods all have something in common. Yes, they are all fictional lawyers from excellent movies. But there is something else that is consistent in their approach in the courtroom: they all tell a great story.

It would have been impossible for one of the jurors to stop paying attention during Joe Pesci’s cross examinations in My Cousin Vinny. The same goes for those shown in Legally Blonde. Similarly, one could have heard a pin drop during the closing argument shown in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Each of these fictional lawyers have varying levels of expertise and each movie situation is diverse. However, their ability to tell a story creates interest for the jurors and forces them to hang on every word.

While some of the situations presented in these movies are absurd, the importance of telling a good story cannot be overstated. There’s no mystery or special skill that good litigators have hidden away. Plain and simple: they know how to tell a story that catches your attention.

Elements of Exceptional Storytelling

Obviously, everyone has preferences when it comes to stories. Some people like fantasy, some like comedy, while others enjoy romance. But whether inside the courtroom or out in the world, there are three underlying elements that can make any story better or worse.

  1. Emotion - Before we have concrete facts or knowledge, we connect with others based on how we feel about them. Even though facts and truth are vitally important, they play second fiddle to emotion when it comes to storytelling. For example, Harry Potter takes place in a fictional world. There is no truth to the magic, dragons, and other fantastical elements present in the story. But readers and viewers can easily connect with the characters on an emotional level. J.K. Rowling made the characters so universally relatable that anyone can feel their emotions throughout the tale, regardless of the factual accuracy or relatability inherent in Harry Potter’s world.

  2. Logical Flow - It’s much easier for the average person to follow a logical, step-wise story, than it is to pick out the details from incoherent rambling. Effective storytellers can put events in an order that makes it easy for listeners to process the details and create a “big picture”. The father of logic himself, Aristotle saw how easily even the least educated person could appreciate and follow a well-stated syllogism. In today’s world, this fact remains true, and necessitates that logic be used as a scaffolding for every good story.

  3. Avoidance of Extraneous Details - The human attention span is short. Once a person loses interest in something, they will quickly move on to the next thing and never look back. Therefore, storytellers have a small window to hook a listener and get them interested in the story in question. If a storyteller wastes time with extra details that will distract from the main point, they may lose their audience and never get them back.

Incorporating Excellent Storytelling into a Legal Strategy

As simple as the three elements of great storytelling may sound, perfecting the craft is far from easy. Becoming a great storyteller takes practice. But with a lot of time and effort, any lawyer can become an exceptional storyteller and leave everyone in the courtroom wanting more.

Need some help with your storytelling in the courtroom? Check out Emotiontrac to see what they can do for you.


Claim: Artificial Intelligence Could Level Playing Field for Big Law and Small Firm Litigators

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The artificial intelligence-powered software utilizes facial detection through a mobile app to capture the visceral reactions of focus group participants in the blink of an eye.

By Michael A. Mora | June 23, 2021

Photo Credit: Rick Kopstein/ALM

New artificial-intelligence technology could be a game-changer for solo-practitioners and small firms around the country, who do not have the deep pockets of their Big Law competitors.

Developers say the new A.I. could help lawyers with jury selection.

A newly awarded patent for EmotionTrac’s artificial intelligence-powered software utilizes facial detection through a mobile app that captures the visceral reactions of focus group participants in the blink of an eye, according to the company.

‘Focus group-like results’

One user is attorney Patrick Megaro, a partner at Halscott Megaro, who has practiced criminal defense law in Florida and New York for about 20 years.

Megaro said he used a video of a complaining witness to test her credibility with potential jurors. He said the software equipped him with everything he needed to move forward with the case, to attack the witness’ credibility and to develop a juror profile.

“I love this because the focus groups are a hell of a lot of money, and it takes a while to get the results,” Megaro said. “It’s very rare a client is willing to shell out $50,000 or $60,000. But the technology makes it extremely affordable to get focus group-like results without the time, trouble and expense of going through a focus group and a jury consultant, which are also extraordinarily expensive.”

But a potential concern with any unproven technology is whether it will work as the company claims.
In this case, will jurors render a verdict based upon their initial visceral response to physical evidence, testimony or legal argument, or might juror discussion during deliberations sway them?

Shelli Garson, director of insights at Emotiontrac, implied that the technology is groundbreaking and comprehensive. However, if the lawyer loses the case despite using Emotiontrac’s artificial intelligence, the company is not taking any responsibility for the ultimate outcome at trial.

“I’m not giving any money-back guarantees,” Garson said. “By the time facial expressions are recorded, that’s genuine or authentic of their responses. Later on, they might say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t agree.’ But we already know that it is just gesturing and lip service because we already caught them on camera expressing their true facial expressions and reactions.”

How it works

To use the technology, Aaron Itzkowitz, CEO of EmotionTrac, said attorneys provide the company with five minutes’ worth of content, such as testimony, expert witnesses, photos from the case, and video depositions that technicians assemble in a five-minute video.

Then, the video is delivered to an independent panel of at least 100 people to review through a mobile application. As the focus group watches the video, the front-facing camera records slight changes in their facial expressions, second by second, frame by frame.

From those facial reactions, EmotionTrac will use data science to interpret the emotional responses, and then send it back to the client to deliver specific conclusions, objectives, and takeaways about their case. As far as privacy, the information sent to the panel will then be automatically deleted from their smartphones, and at no time will there be any mention of the name of the counsel who plans to take the potential case to trial.

EmotionTrac Dashboard partial view
Partial view of the EmotionTrac Dashboard

After viewing the video, the audience will then answer a survey with questions, such as: “If you were the juror, would you award the injured party $100,000, $500,000, $1 million, etc.,” according to Itzkowitz.

Now, EmotionTrac is offering a test pilot for lawyers to assess whether the artificial intelligence technology can provide value in preparing for an upcoming trial.

After sampling the technology, the company will offer to sell the software as a subscription model specific to the client’s needs. For example, Itzkowitz said a traditional focus group could cost the lawyer upwards of $10,000 or $20,000, and this service will cost 10% of that.

Itzkowitz said this product could solve one of the biggest challenges for attorneys preparing for a mediation, trial or settlement, because the cost of traditional research can be cost-prohibitive to the value of what their case might be worth.

“The advantage for the smaller law firms: It allows them to determine case valuation, whether their exhibits are effective, or if they will be effective in delivering the arguments of their case at a fraction of the price,” Itzkowitz said. “By utilizing artificial intelligence, we’re able to deliver that data to attorneys to prepare for their cases in an easy and quick way.”


Case Study: Truck Driver Negligence

Background: A car was stopped second in line at a traffic light off the highway ramp. The truck driver exiting the highway failed to stop. The truck rammed the idling vehicle and in turn that car smashed into the vehicle in front. The driver in the car who had received the direct impact from the truck sustained injuries which was paid by insurance. The injured ultimately required an additional surgery which the insurance company refused to pay. 

An attorney from the law firm, Rafii & Associates, utilized the EmotionTrac AI focus group platform to gain insights. It used their panel audience as a mock jury to determine valuation for his case before going to trial. 

EmotionTrac compiled photos, video, medical reports and other case materials and produced a short video story of the case to share with the panel (see video).  It was then delivered along with a post video survey to an audience audience composed of 100 men and women. After collecting the data through EmotionTrac’s mobile app, the results were telling. 

Objective: Determine the value of the case.


  • The mock jury was highly empathetic to the plaintiff.

  • The post video survey conducted returned a recommendation of a $1 million award.

Case study


The attorney, who had initially planned on taking the case to trial, was able to settle with opposing counsel during mediation for the sum of $1 million based on the insights delivered by the focus group results.


AI Emotion Analysis Would Have Predicted Responses to the Peloton Ad

The emerging science of emotion detection and sentiment data using micro gestures has many uses. Brand protection and preventing lost sales are just a few of the benefits according to New York-based market research expert, Shelli Garson. The video focus group platform, EmotionTrac was used to evaluate the recent Peloton TV ad. The technology uses the front-facing camera in mobile devices to provide second-by-second insights into the video being testing that tracks eight emotional reactions of the audience.

She details the test and discusses sentiment data, emotion analysis, and engagement in the following article:

AI Emotion Analysis Would Have Predicted Responses to the Peloton Ad


Humor Happens!

EmotionTrac’s Director of Insights Studies the Sentimental Science Behind Laughter

The Webster dictionary defines laughter as, “...the enactment of humor, turning a perception into an action.”

There are a plethora of humor types that make us crack-up, from slapstick comedy to dirty jokes to one-liners. Interestingly, Humor Scientists* agree that laughing is a wholly human reaction to humor, and that, wait for it, laughing at others’ misfortune is a natural construct. Specifically, this type of humor is referred to as "schadenfreude." It literally means to “to laugh at someone's misfortune.”

In their on-going interest to study what makes people laugh, Humor Scientists prefer to employ testing modalities that capture the intensity of the emotional state, otherwise known as emotional arousal. This is the science behind EmotionTrac. We report on seven types of emotional arousal.

Clients often ask us if we can measure humor using the EmotionTrac tool and the answer is YES WE CAN! In fact, according to Robert Plutchnik’s research on Dyadic Emotional Sentiment, the construct of “humor” is the derivative of the combined measures of Joy + Surprise. He also posits that based on his observations, “that laughter is a natural bodily artifact resulting from engaging in something that brings joy to the viewer/reader.” He also noted that adding a sprinkle of surprise creates the phenomenon of laughter.

We tested this theory last month by exposing 154 panelists to a short Saturday Night Live skit, a comedic parody on Personal Injury Lawyers called “Broderick and Ganz.”

We captured facially coded emotional reactions frame by frame, joke by joke, and discovered what a general audience thought was really funny, and what made them laugh.

The chart below showcases the reactions of our panelists to the SNL skit.

Joy Surprise Trends

What can EmotionTrac say about the skit’s inherent humor? It works! The Joy metric outscores the other six basic emotions, suggesting that the viewer takeaway was highly resonant. “Schadenfreude” is in full play here - as the humor arc directly relates to one man’s sour experience in contrast to the other “testimonials,” which tout how well the firm went to bat for them.

Today, marketers have a wide range of means in reaching and communicating with their audiences, however, there is a tendency for consumers to be over-exposed to audio/video cues. That makes for a poor testing environment as well, as consumers are likely to shut out what they have already heard. In contrast, EmotionTrac allows you to overcome this challenge since our tool captures instant, real-life, unbiased genuine facial reactions to your content using an incentivized mobile gaming platform.

* Ruch, W. & Heintz, S. (2014). Test measurements of humor. In S. Attardo (Ed.), Encyclopedia of humor studies (pp. 759-761). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.