Reptile in the Courtroom: Why Scaring the Primitive Brain is a Bad Idea

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Reptiles are scary and very few would ever want to meet one, right?  But what if one doesn’t have to travel through jungles to get their paths crossed by a reptile? Chances are you might meet one in a suit, casually pledging for justice in front of a jury.

Being a “reptile” in the courtroom means, in short, playing the fear cards up in your sleeve. There’s no doubt that fear makes many people react in ways they wouldn’t otherwise and thus end up feeling uneasy with – after all, fear-based strategies of persuasion are nothing more than manipulation; nobody likes the thought of that. As an attorney in Denver might appeal to that primitive brain and pushing those fear buttons inside one’s head just to get and influence the desired reaction from someone is said to work many times, but is it really the way you would want to address and convince those jurors in the courtroom?

Every aspiring lawyer is entitled to having the desire to gain recognition for their persuasion skills. But is it a persuasion based reputation the only aspiration a lawyer should have? Advocacy is, undoubtedly, an art of performance and charisma, but it is far from being only that – or otherwise lawyers would just as well serve as actors or stand-up comedians. Charisma is just the icing on the cake, and it doesn’t necessarily mean manipulating others. This is where ethics come into place, because in the end, being a lawyer is supposedly based on believing in justice and in what’s “right” and making a pledge for that. So when pledging for justice and moral values, you really have to step up and walk your talk.

As much as trial consultants might try to advocate for being a reptile in the courtroom, you might want to reconsider that before anything. If ethics and what is “right” is still an unclear territory to define, especially when fear-based strategies are sometimes very subtle and sneaky – just like a reptile can be – there are several other arguments to make a lawyer snap out of the reptile persuasion mindset.

Fight, Flight or Freeze – The Brain’s Response to Fear

It is impossible to predict a jurors’ reaction to fear because the way the brain is designed to respond to fear stimulus is by no means a one-way street. Do not assume that everybody simply surrenders when faced with a threat, because you are up for a big disappointment. Nevertheless, even if some might surrender, they will gradually lose respect for you as a professional, because deep down inside they can sense they are being manipulated.

That being said…

…Claim Respect by Respecting the Jury

First and foremost: nobody enjoys being tricked, and above all, nobody enjoys being scared into reacting a certain way. Remember, if there is anything you should aim for as ultimate purpose in your law career, it is achieving respect from the jurors, from your peers. As subtle as scare based strategies can be, jurors can and will ultimately sense a feeling of having been manipulated into reaching the desired conclusion if you decide to approach them this way.

You might win a trial now, but that won’t take you far away unless you consider investing in your career on a long term notice. The only way to do that is by being genuine and truly going for a science-based approach, where charisma and persuasion are just the toppings, not the filling.

Prove your respect and you will gain it back undoubtedly. Getting the “sneaky” reptilian image associated with your name will in no way bring you the professional recognition you aim for. Keep that integrity up and don’t animalize those whom you actually work with.

An Alternative? The Reflective Mind

Keep in mind: there’s more to the brain than the limbic system. Since jurors are working in a highly intellectual sphere of thought, you should be more aware of this than any other person. Treat them like such and go for appealing their reflective mind that is eager to be addressed.

What other good technique to facilitate their reflective, analytical skills should you use?

Go for a narrative based approach of persuasion – one that stands on its own feet without needing to resort to fear-inducing techniques. What a narrative approach means is guiding the jurors’ attention and reflection to your side of the case. It is a linear, very thought out and logically sequenced narrative that makes your arguments solid and well stated – which is what you are ultimately going for.

March 1, 2016 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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