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Jury Bias: Teaching Lawyers How to Battle the Misperceptions of Tort “Deform”

March 26, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

Steve Gursten speaking at American Association for Justice webcast seminar on Thursday, March 27, 2014

Attorney Steven Gursten Michigan Auto Law

Sometimes attorneys – and especially injury attorneys thanks to 30 years of tort reform propaganda – lose a case before they even begin.

Ask people what they think of a personal injury lawyer and you’re more likely to get a response of  “ambulance chasing lawyers” than the champion for justice and the rights of the individual against powerful insurance companies and corporations.

This is in large measure due to these same insurance companies and corporate interests spending tens of millions on propaganda campaigns to influence the public. And that was all before we had the Koch Brothers and the United States Chamber of Commerce start dumping additional millions to influence judicial elections across the country.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are many steps injury attorneys can take to change the perception of people who have been poisoned by the propaganda of tort reform as early as the voir dire process.

I will be giving such tips today during a webinar for the American Association for Justice called Jury Bias: Teaching Lawyers How to Battle the Misperceptions of Tort “Deform.”

Some of the topics I will cover include:

The jury: Juries speak a different language, understanding heuristics, cognitive shortcuts, confirmation bias, examples of ugly lawyer websites and ridiculous claims, and most important of all, what we can do to fix the damage.

The judge: The dangers of judges not allowing attorney conducted voir dire.

The client: How to make our own clients more likeable and credible in the eyes of a potentially suspicious and even poisoned jury pool,  fixing our own images as attorneys  to avoid confirmation bias, mining social media and online resources for information on toxic tort “deform” attitudes.

It’s up to us as plaintiff personal injury lawyers to help jurors understand the truth behind tort “reform.”

Here are a few things you can do to start.

Don’t fall into lawyer stereotypes: Act like a human being. Be kind. Help people because it’s the right thing to do, not to bring home a paycheck.

Listen, don’t talk: Always return phone calls. Be sensitive and empathetic to what your clients are experiencing. Don’t speak in legalese. Clients are your No. 1 priority and they should be treated that way at all times.

Fight tort reform propaganda head on: Ever seen the documentary “Hot Coffee”? We pass it out to all of our clients, as it paints a powerful picture of the devastation that comes about from tort reform. Also, make sure you highlight the many ways attorneys give back to the community through charity. For our attorneys, this means picking trash on the highway as part of Michigan’s Adopt-A-Highway program,  packing up food at local food banks, and  giving scholarships to promising legal students.

Police our own: I’ve written and spoken out about the ugly epidemic of ambulance-chasing lawyers, solicitations and mailings being sent to auto accident victims that’s occurring in Michigan, where I practice law. Although recent laws have been passed to punish lawyers who contact automobile accident victims within 30 days of the accident, we have much further to go in protecting the public.  It’s important to speak out against actions perpetrated by our own that hurt our profession.

My presentation will be an hour, followed by a question and answer session.

American Association for Justice members can find more information and register here.

The American Association for Justice is the nation’s largest association of advocates serving the needs of personal injury victims, with more than 50,000 lawyer members. Michigan Auto Law has been a long-standing member, contributor and lecturer to the organization.

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