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Trials in the 21st century: Communicating with millennial jurors

It is important to take into account generational differences and shifting demographics in framing the client’s message

The Millennial generation represents an increasingly important segment of jury pools. They bring to the courtroom attitudes, beliefs and communication styles that are distinctly different from their Generation X siblings and Baby Boomer parents. In-house counsel and outside trial counsel should frame their messages and adjust their trial strategies and tactics to engage and communicate more effectively with this new generation of jurors to deliver winning verdicts at trial.

Who are the Millennials?

Demographers generally define the following generations:

  • Silent Generation (Born 1928 – 1945): Ages 69 - 86; 12% of adult population
  • Baby Boomers (Born 1946 – 1964): Ages 50 – 68; 32% of adult population
  • Generation X (Born 1965 – 1980): Ages 34 - 49; 27% of adult population
  • Millennials/Gen Y (Born after 1980): Ages 18 – 33; 27% of adult population

On March 7, 2014, the Pew Research Center released a report of its most recent survey examining the demographics, attitudes and opinions of the Millennial generation. According to this report, Millennials are the nation’s most diverse generation, with only 57 percent identifying as non-Hispanic white. Compared to prior generations, the Millennials are significantly less connected with traditional institutions, such as political parties, religious institutions and marriage, and have more progressive and inclusive social views. Although Millennials are less well-off financially than the previous two generations at the same age, they remain relentlessly optimistic, with 49 percent saying the country’s best years are ahead and 8 in 10 reporting that they currently have, or expect to have, enough money to lead the lives they want. Millennials are notable in their distrust of others. Only 19 percent agreed that “most people can be trusted,” compared to 31 percent of Gen Xers and 40 percent of Baby Boomers. This distrust does not extend to business and the government, as they are about as likely as their elders to have a favorable view of business and somewhat more likely to have a favorable view of the role of government.

A defining characteristic of the Millennials is the degree to which they are “plugged in” to technology and social networks. They are described as “digital natives” — the first generation for which personal computers, the Internet, mobile technology and social media are not new technologies they must adapt to but rather the natural way they connect to people, news and issues and how they expect to work. Other traits commonly ascribed to members of the Millennial generation include: short attention spans; a sense of entitlement; collaborative; team-oriented; opinionated; impatient; anti-authority. Education, social responsibility and community service are highly valued.

What does this mean for litigants and trial counsel?

With the Millennial generation representing over a quarter of the current adult population, it is not possible or desirable to strike all younger jurors or ignore their perspectives. Although it is inappropriate to use demographics to over-generalize about any group, it is important to take into account generational differences and shifting demographics in framing the client’s message and the means by which it is presented.

Tailor voir dire. Younger jurors are heavy users of social media, generating a treasure trove of public information. Within the confines of applicable ethical rules and local practices, if a jury list is available sufficiently in advance, it is useful to conduct online searches to locate everything from blogs to Twitter feeds that may reflect prospective jurors’ biases, opinions, or predispositions. During voir dire, adopt a conversational approach that encourages a dialogue with younger jurors rather than an interrogating style that may lead them to shut down. Millennials are an opinionated generation who want to be heard. Actively listen to their opinions — showing disinterest or acting dismissive will damage rapport.

Build trust. Recognize and address Millennials’ inherent skepticism and distrust of others. This group expects openness, authenticity and transparency. Select and prepare company witnesses to ensure that they are sincere and credible. Millennials value hands-on experience and objectivity over age, seniority and credentials. Experts who are good teachers and support their opinions with concrete facts and logical explanations will be favored. Trial counsel should address any apparent inconsistencies in the evidence and avoid arguments that seem manipulative. Be prepared to exploit any vulnerabilities in the credibility of the opposing party.

Simplify and engage. The Millennial generation communicates in sound bites, 140 character tweets, and Snapchat messages that “disappear” in 10 seconds. They are multi-taskers who grew up involved in school and a bevy of extracurricular activities. Consequently, Millennials have notoriously short attention spans and get bored quickly. It is essential to be interesting and engaging. Hone the client’s message to easily digestible and memorable themes. Keep the pace moving. Long, convoluted explanations and redundant testimony will cause them to tune out. Appeal to Millennials’ thirst for information and preference for drawing their own conclusions over being told what to believe by educating them about facts and principles that draw a direct line to a logical conclusion. Don’t talk down to these jurors or assume their shorter work or life-experiences equate to a lack of understanding. This approach will allow these jurors to feel empowered, which can create a staunch advocate for your client in the jury room.

Embrace technology. This generation and their Gen X counterparts live in a multimedia world. They are visual learners who are fluent users and consumers of technology. Past concerns with trial aids appearing too slick are no longer valid — today’s jurors expect to be entertained. Presenting hours of testimony without visuals is a sure way to lose their attention. Use graphics, charts, videos, and pictures that consolidate information and illustrate key themes to keep younger jurors engaged. Members of the trial team must be adept at using courtroom presentation technology. Technological ineptitude or delays due to malfunctions put the credibility of counsel and the client at risk.

Appeal to fundamental fairness. Millennials value social justice and fundamental fairness. Members of this generation have a strong desire to do the right thing. A compelling story the Millennial juror can relate to, which presents an opportunity to reach a decision furthering the greater societal good, will resonate with this group.

Contributing Author

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LeeAnn Jones

LeeAnn Jones is a member of Taylor English Duma’s Litigation and Dispute Resolution practice. She is a trial lawyer with more than 25 years experience...

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Amy Burton Loggins

Amy Burton Loggins is a member of Taylor English Duma’s Employment, Labor & Immigration practice. She has a broad-based range of experience handling everything from...

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Stephanie Ford Capezzuto

Stephanie Ford Capezzuto is a member of Taylor English Duma’s Litigation and Dispute Resolution practice. She has extensive experience in premises liability and personal injury...

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