Accounting for Generational Differences in Perception by Jury Candidates

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Now that there are four, potentially five, generations in prospective jury candidates pools, the process of voir dire is more critical than ever to win your case.

Attorneys that define a strategy for each case, specifically what type of demonstratives will be used and how they will resonate with each juror, will have a significant advantage over an attorney who approaches jury selection for each trial in essentially the same way.

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Understanding the differences in perception and what motivates each generation is as important as the facts of the case. How the different generations process, understand and react to the facts will significantly influence their final decision. So, let’s start by looking at what makes each generation different.

Traditionalists/Greatest Generation – Born Before 1946

Hard working, believe in self-sacrifice, respect authority and chain-of-command, values shaped by WWII, Great Depression, focused on the greater good. Relied on radio for information, connection to outside world.

Baby Boomers – Born 1946-1964

Optimistic, loyal, hopeful, idealistic. Strong work ethic, however, can be leery of authority. Values education, status, financial rewards and societal change. Grew up on broadcast TV, aware and engaged in current events and charitable causes.

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Generation X – Born 1965-1980

Skeptical of big business and government authority. Independent and entrepreneurial. High rate of divorced parents. Latchkey kids developed values of self-reliance and freedom and resist bureaucracy and restrictions. Raised by cable television available 24 hours a day. Job uncertainty caused lack of loyalty to large institutions due to roller coaster economy and recessions.

Generation Y/Millennials – Born 1981-1995

Socially and environmentally conscious. Seeking collaborative approach to meaningful work, while requiring work/life balance. Tech savvy and reliant on 24/7 information via Internet. Raised by “helicopter” parents providing safety and assurance. World view shaped by domestic and international terrorism events. Interpersonal communication skills declined due to email and text messaging. Research and learning skills shaped by Siri and Wikipedia.

Generation Z – Born After 1996

Instant gratification and totally techdependent. If it’s not on YouTube, it didn’t happen. Oversharing of information, little is kept private. Constantly seeking input and stimuli. Very smart and quick to process data; however, they have a very short attention span. Seeks to be entertained by media, not by interacting with others. Resurgence of entrepreneurial work environments with a necessity for constant feedback.

Generational Impact on Perception

How will these differences impact your trial presentation? If you are using standard timeline boards to show a progression of activity or events, the traditionalists and boomers will thoughtfully follow along to the conclusion of your argument. Generation X jurists will reach the conclusion before you do and wonder what else there is to know. Millennials and generation Z have stopped paying attention after a few seconds and are wondering what is happening in their social network, which they cannot access because they don’t have their mobile devices with them.

Savvy litigators have adopted a chameleon approach. Presenting the same information in multiple formats is required to grab and maintain the jury’s attention. Cases with any type of complexity must employ demonstratives using available technology, and whenever possible, video. Every night on the news, which generations Y and Z access on their iPads, there is video of something happening. It is the expectation.

Plaintiff firms now understand this and are using all types of media, including 3-D animation for accidents or medical malpractice; day-in-the-life videos; animated timelines and exploding diagrams for product liability matters; clips from video depositions; and even 3-D printers to recreate objects too large to enter the courtroom.

Defense firms have to counter balance this with their own use of technology. This will be driven by their ROI calculation of what and how to use appropriate technology and agreeing where the settlement tipping point is.

For cases that go to deliberation, closing arguments should be specifically crafted to each generation represented on the jury and their unique perceptions and processing characteristics. The facts are the facts, however, how each generation processes this information will be different and should be addressed before they leave the courtroom to make their decision.

Many firms now assemble trial teams with each of the generations represented and actively seek out everyone’s opinions and insights on how to craft their message. While there can be a wide variance of how each generation perceives information it does not make one wrong or right. They’re just different. Creating trial strategy that understands and acknowledges these differences can be the winning formula. Rhonda Jensen, CSR, RDR, CRR, CMRS, CME

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