APPEALING TO MILLENNIAL JURORS
With each passing year, more and more millennials begin to both be eligible for jury service and choose to show up for their day or days in court. As this cohort starts to make their presence felt in jury trials, how should attorneys react to their increased attendance? A few simple considerations can make this situation fairly manageable.
First, it is important to define this group of individuals. Definitions vary, but the most common definition is those people born between 1980 and 2000. That means they range in age from 16 to 36. There was a time when it was rare to see a millennial on a jury, but as more of these people move into their 30s, the more likely they will respond to their jury summons.
There are some who stereotype millennials as self-absorbed and entitled. And while some individuals might fit that description, it is dangerous to assume all people who fall into this age group fit that description. It is always dangerous to use demographics to draw any conclusions about an individual juror, and millennials are no different. It is much more important to identify the attitudes and experiences of an individual than to base an assessment purely on demographic stereotypes.
That being said, sometimes voir dire is so limited that some generalizations must be made to help with jury deselection. Some of the values that appear to be present in a number of millennials include less personal responsibility; a focus on safety; a distrust of hierarchical systems such as government and big business; support for social issues and the underdog; and a motivation to feel good about the implications of the verdict.
These characteristics should inform assessment of individual jurors when other information is not present. Additionally, this information can be used in crafting messages that will appeal to this group. A fair number of the values cited above make these jurors friendly to plaintiffs. The preference, of course, is to strike those jurors with strong biases against your client, as it is difficult to change someone’s core beliefs. But if someone like this is on the panel, one thing defense attorneys can do is help jurors feel good about a verdict by employing “process graphics” to teach jurors how to deliberate and how to follow the law to reach a just verdict.
It is also important to keep millennials engaged in your arguments. Verbally presented messages should be accompanied by demonstrative exhibits, preferably interactive or video. Visual advocacy is critical; don’t buy into the myth of looking “too slick.” Millennials are used to visual presentations and will be surprised if that is not a component of your opening, closing and even witness examinations.
Finally, in the deliberation room, opinion leadership is not necessarily present yet for millennials, but it is growing. It is important to recognize there is soft and hard-power opinion leadership. Hard-power refers to traits like coercion and inducement, whereas soft-power includes charismatic attraction and emotional inspiration. Most millennials do not command hard-power in a group of older individuals, but they do have skills at employing soft-power to achieve their goals. The key is not to discount the role a millennial might play in influencing the verdict.
As millennials continue to get older, it will be interesting to see how their views change both in and out of the courtroom. But for now, if you see a bunch of 20-somethings sitting in your venire, don’t panic, but do consider ways to appeal to this unique (and growing) group.