Three Lessons from the Smithfield Trial
Do your homework, get feedback, and find the simple story.
The Smithfield Trial taught us many lessons, such as the importance of proactively filing pre-trial motions and the advantages of going pro se (representing yourself in court), especially alongside a well-known and respected local attorney. But there are three key lessons from the trial that all of us, even non-lawyers, can apply to our work: Do your homework, get feedback, and find the simple story.
Our legal team "did our homework" (one of DxE's 5 core values) by diving into the details and scrutinizing every relevant piece of evidence. We knew the case far better than the prosecution and I could use that knowledge in the courtroom to ask their witnesses revealing questions.
In preparation for trial, we sought feedback, including from people very different from ourselves. The most notable example of this was a mock trial we performed, with hundreds of “mock jurors” recruited from online surveying systems, to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our case. This study, which was limited to conservative and rural respondents, was the first sign to me that we had a real shot at winning at trial. Approximately one half of respondents were choosing to acquit!
Finally, we told a simple story: Lily and Lizzie's story.
When we did our homework, we accumulated a massive number of storylines that could have been used at trial. Free speech. Corruption. Government overreach. Etc. But the most powerful stories, and efforts to persuade, focus on a much more simple story.
The so-called identifiable victim effect is one example of how simplicity rules. People are more inclined to offer help when they are told the story of one victim, rather than many. The reason is that it’s hard for the human mind to empathize with a cluster. One can’t imagine what it’s like to be a group, a flock, or herd. But when we look into one animals’ fearful eyes, we immediately understand. We want the animal to be saved.
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