Using likeability to a corporation’s advantage increases your chances of trial success.

First Impressions are Everything

We have all heard the expression, “You only get one chance to make a good first impression.” In the legal context, that popular expression also holds true. Psychology indicates that the first impression could substantially affect the outcome of a case because it can affect how jurors process the evidence in the case.

The law is complicated! So complicated, in fact, that it is often the case that the nation’s brightest legal minds cannot come to a consensus on what actions certain laws either compel, permit, or forbid someone from doing. Within this legal framework, we rely on everyday citizens to make legal decisions. Consequently, lawyers are tasked with instructing the jury of the law and explaining how the relevant law and facts of the case favor their client.

It is easier for the lawyer to do their job when the client is likable. This gives the matter a psychological advantage. The law usually prohibits character evidence. However, that does not negate the fact that people have their own preconceived notions while sitting on a jury. Your job as a client is to work on this psychological aspect before litigation. When a jury likes your side, they process the facts of the case more favorably for you, which, in turn, leads to a greater chance of success at trial.

Humanizing a Corporation

What does this mean for a corporation?  To personalize or humanize your business.1  Especially on the brink of recession, prepare for consumers to look for an enemy. The enemy is usually a corporation. Why? Because corporations are traditionally associated with greed. It makes some want to root for the underdog. Many people believe that a corporate party relates to wealth and can afford a loss, or as a defendant, they have deep pockets and can afford to pay higher damage awards. It is easy to paint executives and big corporations as villains to blame for social and economic mishaps that society experiences. Thus, as a corporation, whether a Defendant or Plaintiff, you already have a disadvantage from when a complaint is filed.

What is likability for a corporation with no “face”?

A positive psychological impact is to be likable. What does it mean to be likable? Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines likable “as possessing qualities that bring about a favorable regard: pleasant, agreeable.” This is rather challenging for a Party that does not have a face. Research has shown that a defendant who testified at trial maintained more favorable results than one who did not.2 In those situations, jurors most often were able to show compassion to a person who pleaded their case.3

Showing compassion is rather difficult for a party with no face. If a defendant does not have a “face,” it is more difficult for a juror to relate to them. Although corporate employees with high statuses will be involved and present during the litigation process, most people cannot connect those faces with a business brand. Most businesses are not as publicized as Microsoft, in which a jury could associate with Bill Gates, or a jury could associate Tesla with Elon Musk. Despite a legal basis for treating a corporation as an individual, research has shown that jurors hold corporations and individuals to quite different standards, suggesting they hold corporations to a higher standard.4

Most jurors come into the courtroom with some unconscious bias and are looking for any piece of information to confirm their beliefs.5 A juror’s first impression can either be bolstered or undermined by that juror’s unconscious bias.6 Unconscious bias is an association of liking or disliking a person or group of people that is so ingrained that the person is unaware it is there.7 Generally, people think of unconscious bias in terms of race, but unconscious bias can also be other beliefs and experiences. To believe that unconscious bias doesn’t exist in terms of anti-corporation is nonsense. So, the proper steps to combat bias must be taken now.

Steps to take to appear more Favorable

Various factors can affect the decisions a jury makes. The way to psychologically appeal to a jury is to start now. Be the corporation people desire to do business with, like, and trust. Show authenticity, and empathy, be reliable and engage. Make a brand for your business far in advance of even swearing in the jury pool. Then in front of the jury, the key to humanizing a corporation is showing a jury that the corporation or business shows the same values as them. Most trial teams will elect to have a representative present the entire trial sitting at counsel’s table. This can relate that the corporation is taking the matter seriously.8 Prepare to have a likable representative at trial who bears your brand be present and testify. The most effective representatives are corporate officers who began with the company as an intern or entry-level position and have elevated to an officer role. These witnesses allow jurors to connect to the person and company they represent simultaneously. The bottom line is that corporations are made of real people and thus are not faceless. Lastly, allow your attorney to take it from there and bolster your likability at opening statements to frame evidence that the jury will hear at trial more favorably for your corporation.

1 Humanizing the Corporation: Tips for Successful Representing Large Corporations in the Courtroom by David Lender, Diane Sullivan and Adam Tolin (2015).

2 Defendant Remorse and Publicity in Capital Trials: Is seeing Believing? By Jennifer A. Tallon, Tarika Daftary Kapur, Steven Penrod (2015.)

3 Id.

4 Hans & Ermann, 1989.

5 Jeffery J. Rachlinski & Sheri Lynn Johnson, Does Unconscious Racial Bias Affect Trial Judges, 84 NOTRE DAME L. REV. 1195–1246, 1196 (2009).

6 Id. at 1199.

7 Id.

8 Humanizing A Corporate Defendant During Litigation and At trial By Eric Rudich, PH.D.