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The Advantage Blog

  • Tsongas Litigation Consulting


Updated: Jul 13, 2023

Many of us at Tsongas are college football fans. Actually, that may be understating the passion some of us feel for our respective alma maters. And since none of us went to Alabama, the college football season usually brings us as much pain as it does joy. Even if you don’t follow college football, chances are that you follow some sports team and may empathize with us when we say that we just aren’t the same people following a loss as we are following a win. We can be grumpy for a few days. As it turns out, judges are affected in the same way.

A new study, published as a working paper recently in the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that judges, like the rest of us, may get moody when their favorite sports team loses. Researchers from Louisiana State University tracked the sentences handed out by judges who attended LSU for undergrad or law school. The finding? Judges gave out harsher sentences in the week following an LSU football loss than they did following a win. Specifically, researchers found this effect when LSU was expected to win, but didn’t, like they did in the first game of the season this year. The unexpected loss, the authors theorize, could especially dampen the judges’ moods and may lead to harsher treatment of defendants.

This effect is upsetting, but not terribly surprising. As we’ve written about before, judges are human and decades of research shows that humans – even judges – make emotion-based decisions. A few years ago, researchers made headlines with a finding that judges become less favorable in granting parole as the hours of a day pass. The rationale here is that judges become fatigued during the course of the day and their parole decisions reflect this fatigue until they get a break and then “reset” and become more favorable again.

As you’re preparing an argument, it is always important to be aware of your judge’s human emotions. I am not suggesting that you are able to time your arguments to coincide with the success or failure of your judge’s alma mater, but keep in mind that humans make decisions for a variety of reasons – including various extralegal factors, like the local sports team’s success – and it is critical for litigators to understand how emotions may affect decisions by the judge in their courtroom


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