It’s a well-known fact that success in litigation depends not just on what information is presented, but how it’s presented to and processed by the jury. Jurors process and interpret information based on a multitude of factors – age being one of them. Even though considering the age of a jury may be a weighty, loaded question, it is also one that invariably has a massive effect on the outcome of a case.
As with other age groups, millennial opinions and mindsets are formed based on the cultural, social, economic, and psychological norms that are prevalent among their peers. Of course, making broad generalizations about age can be a dangerous move that results in faulty trial strategy decisions. After all, the millennial generation, like any other generation, is not a monolith. But one would be remiss not to factor in the generation-specific issues pertaining to millennials when planning out how to present a case.
There are certainly general trends that are important to keep in mind when trying a case before a predominantly millennial jury, particularly when presenting expert witness testimony. Before trying a case before jurors from the largest age group in the U.S., it is important to keep the following factors in mind.
Make Strategic Use of Technology
It may be an unfair – and untrue – assumption that older generations are adverse to technology (68% of baby boomers have reported owning a smartphone and 59% use social media). But millennials are still in the lead in terms of adopting new technology, being the age group to most quickly accept and learn about advancements in electronic devices and software. Nearly 100% of this tech-savvy age group has access to the internet and also tends to favorably look upon the advances made in the area. With such widespread acceptance of technology among millennials, a jury composed predominantly of this age group would likely benefit from the use of technology in the courtroom.
Courts have, slowly but surely, become more tech-friendly in recent years. Many are now equipped with wireless networks, integrated control systems for audio and video, and individual computer screens for electronic storage and presentation of exhibits. When offering expert testimony, technology can be an invaluable asset, particularly when displaying demonstrative evidence (i.e., evidence that offers a physical illustration of a fact). Study after study has shown that jurors respond well to visual evidence. Visuals help maintain and increase engagement, and with many jury boxes offering each juror their own computer screen, such evidence can be seamlessly and easily exhibited.
There is no limit to the ways in which demonstrative evidence or graphic visuals can be used in conjunction with expert testimony – whether it be the reconstruction of a car accident through simulated video or a computerized graphic of a plaintiff’s injury. Virtual reality and augmented reality programs also offer three-dimensional imaging, which can be utilized throughout an expert’s testimony in numerous ways.
That being said, it does not mean that every use of technology is a surefire way to keep a millennial jury’s attention. With high use comes high standards as well as interests constantly shifting to follow the trends. For example, any cache associated with PowerPoint presentations during an expert’s testimony may get lost in comparison to a virtual reality program. Likewise, since millennials generally have a favorable outlook on technological advancements, an expert’s testimony should be careful not to include tech-based evidence that works against that idea (i.e., a poorly constructed graphic or a computer program that frequently freezes). The evidence and graphics should always aid the jury’s understanding of the issues and avoid frustrating your audience.
Be Mindful of Outside Distractions
Although jury duty is one of the most important services one can offer their country, it’s also, oftentimes, underappreciated. Jurors take time out of their schedules and put their own needs (as well as the needs of their families) aside to serve on a jury. As such, trials should always run as efficiently as possible so that jurors need not sit for hours upon hours in a courtroom with the nagging thought that they are wasting time that could be spent on work and life responsibilities.
Particularly for millennials, a streamline presentation of evidence that is both comprehensive yet efficient, can keep them more engaged while quelling anxiety about their outside life. Millennials are, after all, the majority of the workforce, with many holding down more than one job or other side gigs to survive. In light of millennial work trends, it is likely that a millennial juror is putting several employment-related obligations on hold to serve as a juror. In short, do not waste their time. While expert testimony may unavoidably be lengthy dependent upon the subject matter, unnecessary, drawn-out testimony that could be conducted in a shorter amount of time will do nothing for millennial jurors. Rather, it may only breed resentment. For an age group who, on average, works longer than 40-hour weeks, it is safe to say that they will appreciate condensed testimony, whenever possible.
It would be impossible to predict a juror’s vote based solely on age. Likewise, it would be a disservice to any individual juror to make broad generalizations about them without taking into consideration all of their traits and experiences. However, absent these caveats, it is important to note certain ideological trends in the millennial generation before presenting expert testimony.
As a general matter, millennials have been found to be more liberal-leaning politically, than the older generations. Millennials, as a whole, tend to favor government involvement and support. They also tend to support racial, economic, and gender equality, as well as social causes. They are also largely in agreement that human activity and climate change are connected (a good sign for any scientific experts!). While such reports are merely a quantitative generalization and not a bright-line rule, it would be wise not to ignore the issues that matter to the millennial generation.
Of course, how one actually translates these trends during expert testimony is based on the individualized subject at hand. But to the extent that an expert can, the testimony should be tailored to and crafted with these ideologies in the background.