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Test How Fiction Increases Empathy With Mock Jury Focus Groups

If lawyers can garner empathy from jurors, they can generally put their case in a favorable position. As we’ve seen, empathy has been a driving force for the success of civilization, small communities, and individuals throughout time. And this can be tested with mock jury focus groups before entering the courtroom.

Weaving together a story that encourages empathy will firmly commit jurors to a lawyer’s side. Seeking truth and justice should always be the goal of any courtroom proceeding. But plain facts and statistics do not encourage empathy. Fiction does.

mock jury focus groups

Therefore, courtroom lawyers must hone their storytelling abilities. Indeed, telling a great story is one of the strongest assets a good trial lawyer can have.

Fiction and Empathy in the Courtroom

A few years back, the concept of empathy drew the interest of researchers in the psychology field. Through multiple studies, psychologists began to draw a link between the level of empathy research participants showed and the amount of fiction literature these individuals consumed.

But why is this the case? On the surface, it would seem that someone who consumed more non-fiction would be better able to relate to others. After all, non-fiction events actually transpired at some point. How can there be any better way to relate to others than learning about real experiences?

Let’s take a look, starting with some definitions.

Clear Definitions

With any practical discussion, it’s always important to begin by defining terms.

  • Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.
  • Fiction: something invented by the imagination or feigned.

So, to rephrase the initial premise: “’something that is invented by the imagination’ increases the ability to ‘vicariously experience feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another.’”

But this stance can cause issues with some of our core beliefs. For example, if this premise is true, how is it compatible with “survival of the fittest” and the evolution of our species?

Empathy and Evolution

We have long held that “survival of the fittest” led to our evolution as a species. While this is widely accepted in broad terms, it’s important to note that kindness, sympathy, and empathy have enabled communities to thrive throughout all of civilization. If our communities were simply based on “survival of the fittest” in its purest form, we would immediately cast aside members of our society who were not as “fit” to thrive in the world.

But this is not at all how we operate in civilization. We take care of our elderly, our sick, and our disabled. We are horrified when these vulnerable members of our society are treated poorly. Swift justice is sought when one violates our natural, agreed-upon rules of compassion and empathy.

To further emphasize this point, we can look to the great works of literature and storytelling throughout the years. Stories that have been passed down through the generations continue to teach us the importance of empathy, morality, kindness, and the golden rule. While these stories were based on real people and real events, they largely came from the imagination (some of them even used farm animals as the main characters). In other words, they were fiction.

Weaving a great story will definitely help engender empathy from the jury. Fortunately, you can know what the reaction will be before having to present in court. Using AI-Powered digital focus groups to test out how empathetic one’s storytelling is with a mock jury focus group is an inexpensive way to know the effect of your presentation ahead of time.

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How to Create Compelling Melodrama in the Courtroom

Plot-Driven Melodrama in a Courtroom – He Who Tells the Best Story Wins!

With every story there are essential elements, such as plot and characters. Without these minimum requirements, a story would be incoherent. Great storytellers know how to emphasize the most compelling components of characters as they carry out the plot.

When it comes to real life situations, especially in the courtroom, the involved characters may not always be the most exciting part of the story. Therefore, the plot has to be strong enough to keep the interest of, and win the favor of, the jury. A good way to create a strong plot is to deliver the story in the style of a melodrama.

What is Melodrama?


How to Create Compelling Melodrama in the Courtroom

In some writing communities, the topic of melodrama in stories is one that is constantly debated. Even the definition of the term often comes into question as writers struggle to weave melodrama into their masterpieces.

But for the purposes of clarity, a melodrama can be defined as “a work characterized by extravagant theatricality and by the predominance of plot and physical action over characterization.”

Again, one could probably debate what type of work technically falls into the category of melodrama, but an example of this storytelling style can be found in many soap operas. Characters in these shows often don’t demonstrate great depth in their backstories. Further, soap opera audiences are often more interested in “what will happen next” rather than how the characters will grow and change.

How to Create Compelling Melodrama in the Courtroom

The plot to any story, regardless of whether it’s in a courtroom or a storybook, will have 5 elements:

  1. Exposition: To start, the storyteller must set the scene. For the jury to be invested at all, they have to be hooked during the exposition.
  2. Rising Action: Significant events that led to the cascade of future events are often used as a means of building tension during the story. This is known as the rising action and it ultimately leads toward the climax.
  3. Climax: The climax is what all the tension built during the rising action has led to. This is the point in a melodrama where the audience is basically holding their breath, waiting to see what will happen. Every story needs a good climactic moment.
  4. Falling Action: Once the tension has built to the breaking point and the climax has left the jury in shock, it’s time to start easing them back to a gentle calm in which they will deliberate on the case at hand. The falling action allows the audience a slow descent from the action so that they can move on to the conclusion.
  5. Dénouement/Conclusion: At this point, any remaining questions will need to be addressed or left hanging to build suspense for the next story in the series (although the latter option should be avoided in the courtroom). Denouement translates literally to “untying”. This part of the story unties anything that’s still knotted up in the jury’s mind and leaves no doubt about the trial lawyer’s message.

The Art of Storytelling

Above all, storytelling is an art. Trial lawyers need to treat this part of their craft as they would any other artistic pursuit: with an open mind, creativity, and willingness to receive constructive feedback.


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Successful Trial Lawyers Use Storytelling to Connect with the Jury

Successful Trial Lawyers Use Storytelling to Connect with the Jury

Not everyone will enjoy the same type of story. Some people like tragedies, some like comedies. Furthermore, connecting with everybody is hard. But it’s not impossible.

There are certain elements of stories audiences from all different backgrounds, with all different interests will enjoy.

When it comes to the courtroom, the most successful lawyers are those who can quickly develop rapport with the jury and tell them a story they will never forget. Mock juries are a great way to test out the emotional impact of your closing arguments.

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Traits of a Great Trial Lawyer

Judge Mark Bennett published a list of 8 traits which he believes makes for the quintessential trial lawyer. While all 8 of the points provide excellent guidance for courtroom attorneys, three of them stick out above the rest with regards to storytelling and jury connection:

  1. Preparation. As the Stoic philosopher Seneca stated: “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” While one could argue that luck is always involved to some extent with courtroom proceedings, this does not absolve trial lawyers from being prepared for whatever may happen during the trial. Preparing, practicing, revising, and being ready to shift the direction of the courtroom story are some of the best preparatory skills to have as a trial lawyer.

  2. Excellent Listening Skills. It may sound counterintuitive, but to be a superlative storyteller, one needs to be a great listener as well. Listening to the tone, inflections, and content of witness testimony, as well as anyone else who may be speaking during the trial is a phenomenal skill to have and one that many trial lawyers neglect in favor of those that involve the “talking” portion of storytelling. To be great at something, one must practice and study the art from multiple angles. Listening to both excellent and poor storytellers is a good way to take courtroom storytelling skills to the next level.

  3. Raconteur Ability. The word raconteur sounds fancy and exciting. Denotatively, it just refers to someone who is great at telling stories. But connotatively, and perhaps more importantly, raconteurs are the storytellers that everyone wants to hear speak: the storytellers that people will travel for miles to hear them deliver their tales. Courtroom lawyers should start thinking of themselves as raconteurs. They should create such compelling stories that people will want to look back after the fact just to admire the skillful ability of the trial attorney in question.


Telling a Story That Everyone Wants to Hear

When discussing storytelling ability, sometimes the most obvious way to craft an appealing story is overlooked: what do YOU look for in a story? If you like stories for a certain reason, odds are many other people in the world will as well. Trial lawyers should strive to understand the art of storytelling so that they can connect with anyone who might hear their story.

It’s not an easy skill to master for most. Becoming a great storyteller takes a lot of practice, time and dedication. But it a skill that is well worth the effort. You can gauge your effectiveness by utilizing a mock jury to finalize arguments.

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