Shrinking courtrooms

Discusses the growth in litigation psychology in the United States. How litigation psychologists contribute to many aspects of the trial, from jury selection to the crafting of a summation; Research which shows lawyers make lousy psychologists; Ethical implications.

By PT Staff, published on March 1, 1995 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

LITIGATION PSYCHOLOGY

Once upon a time, in a more innocent age, the legal teams at a
typical trial consisted of--get this--lawyers. Today, attorneys are just
the beginning. In many cases litigation psychologists contribute to
nearly every aspect of a trial, from jury selection to the crafting of a
finely wrought summation.

Litigation psychology is hot, says trial consultant Amy Singer,
Ph.D., because "lawyers are horrendous psychologists," Research bears
this out. In one experiment, investigators asked trial attorneys, law
students, and college sophomores to choose jurors well suited to a
hypothetical defense case. Despite years of courtroom experience, the
lawyers selected jurors who were more conviction-prone than average. Even
college sophomores picked sympathetic jurors better than the
lawyers.

The reason? "Attorneys base their choices on stereotypes and old
wives' tales," says Singer. Rather than selecting jurors on the basis of
sex, religion, or ethnicity, litigation psychologists match the attitudes
of individual jurors to the facts of the case. Then they may help lawyers
tailor their courtroom tactics to maximize their appeal to the chosen
jurors.

Trial consultants also provide shadow juries, which follow the case
and render their own judgment. These panels can alert attorneys when to
settle out of court.

But is this what the founders of our justice system had in mind?
Singer argues that the fate of someone who has been falsely accused of a
crime, or who has suffered due to someone else's negligence, shouldn't
depend on who shows up for jury duty that day. "It's unethical not to use
a psychologist," she claims.

While a good trial consultant may slightly increase the odds of
winning a case, many experts insist that the most significant factors in
jury verdicts are still the strength of one's case and how well it's
presented.