By Melissa M. Gomez
Special to the Legal
Unfortunately, the answer to this broad-based question requires the answer that is most unpopular when given by jury consultant. That answer is …it depends. First, it depends on the venue. Some places are more about the home team than others. Take Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a home field advantage kind of place. From both the real and mock trials I have conducted there, it became clear that, while folks are reasonable and thoughtful, there is an underlying sense of pride in the accomplishments of homegrown businesses and hometown folks. A party coming in from the outside to criticize that which is homegrown clearly has a steeper incline to climb than a party from the home turf. That is not to say that the incline is not climbable. It is just steeper.
Other places, like New York City, may have less of an inclination to support the home team. First, there are so many people and businesses that originate from different places, the sense of pride in the "homegrown" gets diluted because the roots of the venue itself tend toward the planted, not the indigenous.
The question is really about how well the trial team and client interacts with the venue as opposed to the venue being a "bad" place for an outsider. Specifically, can you "do as the Romans do" or do you stick out like a sore thumb?
It reminds me of a case in Boston for which I was working with the defense. The lead plaintiffs' counsel, a man from Texas with a heavy, unmistakable Southern drawl, kept a quiet seat next to the local attorney. It was clear that the team was afraid that such an obvious indication of being from another area of the country would be problematic for the plaintiff. He said not a word during the whole trial. Was it the right call? I can't say, but the defense prevailed, so maybe it wasn't.
In my practice, I have found that being the attorney from the outside means you have to do your homework to understand the people in the venue as opposed to being like them. It is not that you need to change who you are or who your client is. In fact, trying too hard to fit in may backfire. Most jurors from Texas will notice that those cowboy boots that attorney from Philadelphia is wearing are fresh from the box. Instead, understanding a venue is more about showing respect for it by learning and following the court procedures, and understanding the folks well enough to know what kind of argumentative tactics will fly and what will not (i.e., you may get away with a more directly confrontational cross examination in New York City than, say, Savannah, Ga.). When in Rome, you don't have to do what the Romans do. You just have to know what they do and show respect for it while you do what you do.
The fact of the matter is, in any venue, whether in your hometown or across the country, a strategy that is palatable and understandable to the folks within the community is what will win a case, out of town or not.
Melissa M. Gomez, Ph.D. is a jury consultant and owner of MMG Jury Consulting LLC. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Her experience includes work on hundreds of jury trials in Philadelphia and across the country, with a focus on the psychology of juror learning, behavior and decision-making. She has more than a decade of expertise in research design and methodology, as well as in behavioral and communication skills training.
This posting is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed or interpreted as advice specific to any matter. Each case is different and no strategy applies uniformly to all. If you have any questions regarding jury psychology that you would like to see addressed in this blog, please contact Gomez at [email protected] or call 215-292-7956.