In this episode of the IMS Insights Podcast, we speak with senior trial advisor G. Christopher Ritter about juror core values and behavioral economics at trial.
Teresa Barber: Okay. Welcome, Chris. It’s really nice to have you on here. Good to have you today.
Chris Ritter: Thank you, Teresa. It’s always good to hear your voice and to see you. Particularly in this very stressful time, it’s always good to hear that people are doing well and I’m glad to hear your family’s well.
Barber: Thank you, Chris. Same to you. I wanted to ask you, how did you end up finding yourself interested in law and in the field that you’re in now?
Ritter: Well, it was a circuitous route. It all began when I was five years old, and one of my mother’s sisters who didn’t have any children, so she was kind of like a second mother to us. After listening to this five-year-old talking and talking and talking, she turned to my mom and said he needs to be a lawyer someday. I actually remember that, and I didn’t know what a lawyer was, but if she said I should be a lawyer someday, that actually started me thinking. It was circuitous in the sense that my mother always wanted to have a pediatrician. She was a pediatric nurse. For the longest time, she was urging me to go into medicine and I thought I would become a doctor until I hit Organic Chemistry.
Ritter: Like a lot of people when I hit Organic Chemistry, I couldn’t figure out what an alkane and an alkene was, but I was having a great time in political science classes. I withdrew from the class literally right after the second exam, declared myself as a political science major and as I like to joke they say there’s not much you can do with a political science degree except go to law school. As they say, the rest is history. That’s true, but I think to be a little bit more serious, I think I had always really been impressed by the power for good that lawyers have to be able to do with respect to helping people and doing justice.
Ritter: To me, it’s easy to say that, but it’s something that I’ve always tried to maximize being able to do pro bono work and otherwise, and in that regard, it’s a profession that’s greatly satisfying.
Barber: Thank you for sharing that, Chris. That’s interesting. You have a special interest too. You have gravitated specifically to litigation, and you’re a master of trial practices. How did that become a particular area of interest for you?
Ritter: Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you for saying that. It’s one of those things that… I just had my 64th birthday. You wake up and you try to look back and you figure out how did I get here and I think that to some extent, the unifying thread has been that I’ve been lucky enough to find things that I really love and really enjoy doing and have been able to pursue them. When you’re in your 20s, and somebody tells you that you should do what you love and do your passion, do what fills you with passion, it sounds good, but you’re not quite sure where that’s going to lead you. But it really is very good advice. I started off in law school, thinking that all that lawyers did was trial work.
Ritter: I didn’t have any lawyers in my family, so I was assuming that I was going to be a trial lawyer. When I graduated from law school, I was very lucky to have graduated at a time in the early ’80s where lawyers were still not outrageously expensive. Young lawyers had the opportunity to be mentored by senior folks, which is unfortunately a dying opportunity these days. I had an opportunity to work with some very good trial lawyers who really instilled in me a passion for the jury system and the adversarial system and really had an opportunity early on to get involved in trials, which I think made all the difference in the world. Then I had an opportunity to teach at Hastings Law School, and I realized how much I really did, in fact, enjoy the process.
Ritter: From then on, it became an issue to try to get into court and do as much related to trial work as possible. This is a long answer, but I was in the middle of getting ready for a trial, which were becoming increasingly rare and I met this guy named Andy Spangler who had started a group called The Focal Point and he was having such a good time working on what was so much fun about a trial, getting it ready for trial. Taking boxes and boxes of documents and putting them into some order and then figuring out a way to teach that. He was enjoying that opportunity and I came to the conclusion that was for me and drew a leap of faith, just decided to stop.
Ritter: I was lucky enough to find an opportunity to work with Andy and that really gave me the opportunity to really pursue what I love doing, which is finding ways to make the system work through helping educate and teach the decision maker.
Barber: Chris, I’m dying to ask you because one of the first times I ever met you, you blew my mind as I was sharing with you a little bit ago, and you talked about how very specific values persuade various types of jurors to approach information differently. Can you talk a little bit about your approach to the juror mindset?
Ritter: Yeah. Well, again, thank you. I firmly believe in the jury system. I don’t think that it gets it right 100% of the time, but I don’t think any system, any decision system gets it right 100% of the time. I honestly do believe that it does. I think it gets there, not by anything that trial lawyers are expressly taught in law school, you should really have to know the law and you have to understand what are required. The reason the jury system works is there are 12 people who have a collective wisdom that gets applied to a set of facts. The set of facts, if you think about it are things which they’re hearing for the first time and they know very little about.
Ritter: There’s a logical question, which is how do 12 people who know absolutely nothing about often very detailed, very specific areas come up with the right decision? I’ve just observed over the years that one, I think 12 people and the common sense and the general collective wisdom that they have is a very powerful way of determining what happened. The other reason that it happens is that people are able to relate to each other in ways that cross culture and people are tied together by virtue of the fact that we’re human. Specifically, to what you were talking about, and that could be through shared experiences and stories and values and various other things, but specifically, I’ve observed that there are about eight core values that really modify…
Ritter: Excuse me, that really drive people to come to their conclusions. This is always fun because I started off with five and then I went to seven and now I’m up to eight. It continues to expand. The eighth one is empathy. It’s like Pluto. We haven’t quite decided whether it’s a planet or not. We haven’t quite decided whether it’s a core value or not, but I think it is. I now say eight. These are the values that motivate people to act and rarely does anyone have a single one of them, we tend to have a combination. I think by appealing to the core values, one can persuade and educate. Those core values just real quickly, and I can talk to any detail you want about them are compassion, which as you can imagine is something that people feel primarily towards defendants that have been injured in some way.
Ritter: I make it very clear that not all of these core values appear in every single case. If you’re doing a very dry UCC-1 filing case, you’re not likely to have a lot of compassion involved, but if you’re dealing with somebody who’s been widowed or orphaned or has been really badly hurt in some way, compassion will come into play. The eighth core value and the reason I’m jumping to it is because it’s related to the first one, is empathy. I’ve debated long and hard whether empathy is its own standalone or whether it’s connected with compassion as well and I’ve come to the conclusion, I think it’s separate. It’s the most recent one. Empathy is the experience that you have of saying, “I would have done the same thing.”
Ritter: It often applies, for example, when you have somebody who’s in a situation that takes an action. For example, we had a case recently where someone had worked for a family business, everything was going well, just before they were about to retire, the business was bought, they lost their pension. In that way you felt compassion, but they then went and started working for a competitor and the big company that had bought the original family company sued them. One of the things that I found jurors saying to themselves, when I talked to them was, “I would have done the same thing.”
Ritter: In other words, I as the defendant, I am in my late 50s and I lose my pension and all of a sudden I’m being forced to work for a company I don’t want to work for, I too would have gone and looked for something else. That’s the second or eighth core value depending on how you rate it. Other core values include what I call checklisters. That’s more of a description of the person than it is the value, but when I describe the person, you’ll understand the value, which is the person who wants to know doesn’t care about warm and fuzzy, doesn’t care about compassion and I don’t mean that in a negative way, but really wants to know what the law is, what the rules are, and they’ll check the boxes based on the evidence and then wherever that comes out, is who they’re going to back.
Ritter: They’ll put aside compassion, they’ll put aside empathy, they’ll put aside other values, because the orderliness of following the rules is important to them and it is an important value. Another one is science, which is, people are looking to find experts or people who can give them information so that they can believe that what they’re hearing is true. Again, I think that’s one of those things that science carries a very important role in our society. Look at all the debates we’re currently having involving science. Science in some ways needs to, and this is often a very strong core value in what motivates people, and some people are much more motivated by others, but I think it’s very hard for people not to feel some influence by what they get from, and again, it’s not really science, it could be information that comes from an expert in some way.
Ritter: I use the word science as a shorthand. The other one that I have is fairness, and that’s a huge motivating factor. Trial lawyers tend to be check-listers so they sometimes forget the desire that many jurors have to do what is right, that is, to come to the right answer, but also come to an answer that they think is fair. Fairness is a motivating factor. Common sense is another one. I think of my mother when I think of common sense. These are people who value an intuitive wisdom, they often rely on rules of thumb and other kinds of what we call heuristics in a formal sense of general rules that have been developed over the years, the folk wisdom.
Ritter: A lot of people who are extremely well educated somehow think that that’s not as important for example, as science and I have to tell you, some of the best reasoners in the world are people who rely on intuitive thinking or common sense. Then, I usually raise at the very end, I think I’m up to eight or will be up to eight. I’ll go through it again with you. Basically, what I call prejudgment or prejudice and self-interest. Both of those are pretty self-explanatory. Self-interest, people do things because they’re going to benefit as a result and prejudice can be… I call it prejudgment as opposed to prejudice, because prejudice historically has a real negative connotation, but some prejudgments are positive.
Ritter: Certain people are predisposed a certain way toward others because of positive thinking, but it’s still a prejudice, it’s still a preconception. I think that’s that. Let’s see. There would be compassion, there would be check listers, there would be fairness, there would be science, there would be common sense, there would be empathy, and then the last two prejudice and prejudgment. That’s all eight of them. We’re all motivated by in some form or another some combination of those eight. Rarely do you find somebody who is just one or the other. Sometimes you do. Someone who is a scientist can be extremely scientifically oriented, and often will overlap with a checklister.
Ritter: Some engineer types are very much checklist oriented or accountants tend to be as well but for the most part, we have a hodgepodge, a stew of all of those. Usually one or two of them predominates and I think recognizing that that gives us the basis, the toe holds, as I like to say, to begin to be able to come up with ways of understanding. That gives us the ability to communicate with others.
Barber: Again, incredibly fascinating going through those eight approaches, and also thinking about the gradient, or the various levels across various individuals.
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