Litigation Tips Archive

Witness Effectiveness

An article by Dr. Melissa Pigott and Dr. Harris Friedman of Magnus, “Enhancing Fact Witness Effectiveness”, reviews social psychological factors related to persuasion, then applies these factors to techniques for witness preparation. Fact witnesses were the focus of the article due to a general absence of literature on preparing fact witnesses for trial. Two actual cases were utilized to illustrate the techniques involved in professionally conducted witness evaluation and preparation. Practical tips are provided to attorneys for enhancing the effectiveness of their witnesses.

Call Magnus today to obtain more information on how your witnesses can testify more effectively.

The Effects of Litigants’ Gender

An article by Magnus’ Director of Research, Melissa Pigott, Ph.D. and co-author Linda Foley, Ph.D. examined mock jurors’ perceptions of male to female and female to male sexual harassment. The article is based on the first experimental study involving a direct comparison of sexual harassment litigants’ gender. The results demonstrated that mock jurors’ liability and damages decisions were different depending on whether the plaintiff was a man who was harassed by a woman or whether the plaintiff was a woman who was harassed by a man. The research findings reported in the article, published in The Trial Lawyer, have important implications for all types of cases in which gender is a key case issue.

Call Magnus for further information or a copy of the article.

Jury Decisions and Just World Belief

An article co-authored by one of Magnus’ partners examined the relationship between jury decisions and belief in a just world. Belief in a just world relates to people’s view that the world is fair, meaning that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to those who deserve it. When good people are victimized, the majority rationalize the situation in one of two ways: blaming the victim or attempting to alleviate the victim’s suffering. An experiment was conducted within the context of a civil rape trial. In addition to numerous other findings, it was revealed that belief in a just world had a strong impact on jurors’ damages awards. Women with a high belief in just world awarded much more damages than other women. In contrast, men with a high belief in a just world awarded less damages to the plaintiff. The article contains many noteworthy findings to aid litigators’ trial preparation.

Call Magnus today to learn more about jury decision making.

Voir Dire Mistakes

The forensic psychologists at Magnus Research Consultants have assisted attorneys in selecting juries throughout the United States. Although the attorneys with whom we work are among the finest in the country, we regularly observe them making mistakes in jury selection. Dr. Melissa Pigott, Magnus’ Director of Research, published an article in The Practical Litigator called “Twenty-Five Mistakes Attorneys Make in Voir Dire.” This article details these common mistakes, then provides the reason why a given action or omission constitutes a mistake. The purpose of the article was to educate litigators of ways to avoid common pitfalls in voir dire as well as to make the process more efficient and informative.

Contact Magnus for a complimentary copy of our latest publication.

Judges’ Attitudes on Courtroom Attire

Magnus Research Consultants, Inc. conducted a survey of judges throughout Florida to assess their attitudes on women lawyers’ courtroom attire. An article based on the survey results will be published soon. The most significant results of the survey were that:

  1.  83% of judges indicated a woman lawyer’s courtroom attire has an impact on her overall effectiveness;
  2.  judges favored the most conservative, traditional forms of attire (such as standard business suit with a jacket and skirt);
  3.  there were varying opinions among judges depending on their gender, age, experience on the bench, court in which they preside, and geographic location.

Overall, judges’ responses revealed a desire to focus their attention on women lawyers’ legal expertise, as opposed to their personal characteristics, including attire.

Look for the survey results to be published soon or contact Magnus for more details.

Self Presentation in Jury Deliberations

An article written by Dr. Linda Foley and Dr. Melissa Pigott reports findings from a study on self presentation in jury deliberations. The article, titled “Race, Self Presentation and Reverse Discrimination in Jury Decisions,” was published in the American Journal of Forensic Psychology. Self presentation theory proposes that people are concerned about how others evaluate them and that, as a result, people want others to think they are unprejudiced. The study involved a civil case presented to mock jurors, who were asked to determine liability of a plaintiff and defendant. When the jury foreperson was black, jurors assigned less responsibility to a black defendant than a white defendant. There were no differences in responsibility attributed to a black defendant or a white defendant when the foreperson was white. The results were interpreted as a reverse discrimination effect, in which jurors adopted a politically correct view when the foreperson was black.

Contact Magnus to obtain a copy of this article.

Summary of “Insiders’ Views on Jury Decision Making”

“Insiders’ Views of Jury Decision Making,” co-authored by Lyndall Lambert, Esq. of Holland & Knight and Dr. Melissa Pigott of Magnus Research, was published by the ABA in the Fall, 2006 issue of the Aviation and Space Law Committee newsletter. The article describes Ms. Lambert’s unique experiences as a long time insurance defense attorney who served as a juror on a personal injury case. After each substantive area of Ms. Lambert’s commentary, Dr. Pigott provided an overview of social science research that either confirmed or refuted Ms. Lambert’s experiences as a juror. The article is written in a conversational tone, largely following the format of a panel discussion in which the authors participated with the judge who tried the case. Ms. Lambert and Dr. Pigott are available to re-create the panel discussion for attorneys’ seminars or meetings.

Contact Magnus for more information on “Insiders’ Views of Jury Decision Making.”

What does Eyewitness Memory have to do with Jury Consulting?

The doctoral dissertation of Magnus’ Director of Research, Dr. Melissa Pigott, was recently cited as determining the foundational limits of the strength of eyewitness memory. Inaccurate eyewitness memory has been noted as one of the leading causes of false convictions. Dr. Pigott’s study was groundbreaking in that it was a real world field study of the ability of bank tellers to identify a perpetrator in a staged crime. The dissertation was published in 1990 and is unique in that it was a field, not laboratory, study involving adults in a real world setting instead of college students. As such, the authors of a fall, 2008 article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied found Dr. Pigott’s research to provide the upper limit for the accuracy of eyewitnesses upon which all other assessments of such witnesses should be based. The article concludes that eyewitnesses, under optimal conditions, perform at about a 50% accuracy level, that is, a chance level.

Some of the research Dr. Pigott did as part of her graduate studies, beginning in 1980, involved the use of mock juries. Her world famous dissertation, mentioned above, was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and is one of many publications by Dr. Pigott. Her research in the area of psychology and the law led to her employment in the jury consulting field, and ultimately, to her founding of Magnus Research Consultants in 1993. Dr. Pigott’s expertise in cognitive psychology and social psychology was instrumental to her exploration of the eyewitness field from an angle which had not been previously explored. These same areas of expertise provide vital input to trial attorneys and their clients leading to the successful litigation of difficult cases.

For more information, see:

Deffenbacher, K.A., Bornstein, B.H., Mc Gorty, E.K., & Penrod, S.D. (2008). Forgetting the one-seen face: Estimating the strength of eyewitness’s memory representation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 14, 139-150.