Everyone loves a good story, and jurors are no exception. Attorneys have long used storytelling to win over juries in the courtroom, and now attorneys are testing their stories on mock jurors prior to trial to learn how to more effectively present those stories at trial. A mock jury trial can be one of the most powerful preparation tools available to a trial lawyer when used for the right reasons. When used for the wrong reasons, such as for predicting the outcome of the trial, they can be an expensive waste of time.1 But mock trials are extremely useful for listening to the mock jurors discuss the cases at issue, and more specifically for discovering how those jurors construct their stories and ultimately adopt a story that they believe best fits the evidence.2
Jurors appreciate a great storyteller because storytelling is hard-wired to the human brain.3 Studies show that a person’s brain will naturally attempt to create a story around a given set of facts, even when that person has not been told a story. Thus, if a trial lawyer fails to build a story in the courtroom, the jurors will build one in its absence because storytelling is how people make sense out of a complicated set of facts; people instinctively replace order with chaos to resolve conflict. 4
The Story Model theory to juror decision making is an explanation-based approach that emphasizes jurors’ cognitive organization and representation of facts.5 In the last few years, empirical support for the Story Model has increased, and as such it has become more widely accepted than the previous mathematical models for predicting jury behavior.6 In the mathematical models, the theory is that jurors isolate the facts presented to them at trial, weigh those facts, and derive a preferred verdict by summing the products. While jurors may engage in such mental calculations used by the mathematical models from time to time, the Story Model offers a less complex and compelling depiction of juror decision making in most trial settings. 7
The central claim of the Story Model is that the story the juror constructs determines the juror’s verdict.8 According to the model, jurors evaluate the evidence through story construction, develop representations of the verdict categories after learning the verdict categories’ attributes and elements, and then reach a decision by classifying the story into the verdict category deemed to be the best fit.9 Though each juror may construe multiple stories, often only one will stand out as being more acceptable than the others based on the extent to which the evidence presented at trial covers the story. Jurors use three types of knowledge to construe the story: knowledge from the evidence presented at trial, knowledge from their own personal experiences, and knowledge about what they believe constitutes a complete story.10 As such, when attorneys fail to fully develop their stories, jurors will inherently fill in the missing pieces based on their own knowledge.
Applying the Story Model concept to a mock jury trial can help attorneys strengthen their stories in preparation for trial. Attorneys can extract stories from the mock juries and then adjust their stories prior to trial to verify that every component is included in their presentations and arguments. 11 By using the Story Model process, attorneys can discover stories they may not have anticipated beforehand. Further, this process will allow attorneys to identify potential weaknesses in the opposing party’s stories and to emphasize those weaknesses during trial. Thus, by analyzing the stories jurors tell during the course of a mock trial, attorneys can benefit from the Story Model approach to juror decision making by improving upon those stories to ultimately win their cases on the big day.