Trouble in Trump Times

“Know thy self, know thy enemy.” Sun Tzu

I recently finished a trial where the defendant admitted to running a red light and slamming into my client. When the jurors awarded minimal damages, I was reminded of what sociologist are calling our present times ‘America’s Cold Civil War’ and the success of President Donald Trump. How do we unify a jury, when our society is divided, and jurors talk past one another? How do we get our jurors into the same tribe?

President Trump’s success reminds trial lawyers of the importance and power of simplicity. Assessing the first 30,000 words of each American president’s term, analysts found that most politicians score a 6th to 8th grade level of communication. Harry Truman, who spoke at a 6th grade average on the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, was the second worst. According to the study published last December in Newsweek, Trump clocked in at a mid-fourth grade level.

What’s the lesson for plaintiff lawyers? Know your audience and speak to them. Unify the jury. Use simple language to create a tribe because our ability to compromise dies with polarization.

How do we get people into a tribe? President Trump’s ability to Keep It Simple Stupid is a lesson for us all. The simpler the plaintiff attorney’s message, the more unified the jury. When the case isn’t clear, jurors fall back on fundamental assumptions. Attempts to unpolarize these jurors must be crystal clear. Trump has taught us the power of simple, straight forward language that speaks to, and unifies the audience. Whether you agree or disagree with Trump, his skill at unifying his audience is notable.

Jurors are not real estate agents or brokers. They aren’t financial advisers or lawyers or judges. Yet, this is how we talk to jurors and one another as soon as we enter the courtroom. We talk in a very specialized language driven and carefully balanced on terms of art. We use eight words to say what could be said in two. We use arcane phrases to express commonplace ideas. Avoid the wordy, unclear, pompous and dull style that polarizes jurors. Getting the jurors into the same tribe and unified is a challenge in our present times, but if achieved yields great results as we’ve all learned there are no racists in a foxhole.

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