All too often, “trial themes” and “taglines” do not enter into one’s stream of consciousness until settlement fails and the jury trial is weeks away. In a more perfect world, themes would be on every attorney’s radar from Day One. After all, there are numerous advantages to incorporating them into your case from the get-go. [See our prior post: Using Case Themes Effectively in an Original Petition]
Themes and taglines are vital and powerful tools that can be utilized effectively by each and every person who hopes to persuade another. Writing a motion for summary judgment (or any other persuasive written document for that matter)? Trying to convince a new client to hire you? Pitching a new business idea to a group of partners? Arguing your strongest legal points in front of an arbitration panel? Trying to persuade jurors to render a verdict in your favor?
Everyone needs themes.
Themes and taglines provide your audience with structure and a means by which to learn large amounts of new information. In many ways, themes are like buckets that help your audience organize, weed out and assign value to various facts and issues. Remember the sorting toy that your kids played with when they were toddlers? Themes essentially work the same way within our brain: much like blocks are sorted by color or shape, facts are sorted by theme.
If you ask most jury consultants, “What is the best way to find themes and taglines for my case?” most (including yours truly) will passionately say “Pretrial research, of course!”. Mock jurors have an uncanny way of simplifying complex issues into short, meaningful soundbites that stem from personal experiences and preconceived attitudes, and consequently, have emotional appeal. Nothing beats a theme shared by a juror.
However, not every case has the funds or the manpower or even the time to conduct jury research. So the $60,000 question becomes, “How do I find themes and taglines for my case on a dime store budget?” Here are our top five suggestions.
- Talk with a Jury Consultant.
Before you completely dismiss this as being cost-prohibitive, hear me out. At CourtroomLogic, we offer clients the opportunity to meet, talk through key issues, and simply brainstorm. We’re in, we’re out. It doesn’t require a long-term commitment or more than a few hours (i.e., cost effective). We’ve talked with countless jurors over the years, and have gained keen insight into what resonates, what angers and what matters to “real people.” Meeting with a consultant for just a few hours is a great way to get a huge bang for your buck.
- Test Your Themes on Trusted Friends and Family.
There are obviously ethical and privilege issues to consider, but don’t dismiss the power of pitching “big picture” ideas to your high school kids, your mother or even your golf partner. You can address key issues without disclosing any identifying facts, names or details of your case. If you have a few themes in mind, test them out on your trusted friends.
- The Media.
If your case gets any press whatsoever, it’s well worth your time to peruse any articles that are available online. If your case shares similar elements to that of another case, reviewing press is still worth your time. Most articles online allow readers to post comments, and these comments are full of insightful tidbits. Folks tend to be very candid in their postings, and evaluating comments could provide you with a great theme or two (not to mention a few a-ha moments). Social media is another great resource.
- Borrow a Famous Quote.
There are a number of fabulous websites that feature thousands of popular (and not so popular) quotes. Sometimes, the best theme or tagline is borrowed from someone else. Brainyquote and goodreads are a couple of my favorite resources. If you’re completely stumped, spend a little time on these sites and you may very well walk away with a few ideas.
- Borrow from Well-Known Literature and Movies.
Themes are a core element of fables, fairy tales and mythology. And every movie has a theme (whether it’s a memorable one is another story). A simple Google search will reveal hundreds of sources to help you identify common themes, or even specific ones if you have a particular story in mind.
The challenge when developing a theme or tagline is to select something with universal appeal and relatable. Your theme will lack influence if you have to explain its impact or relevance to your audience; it should be powerful in and of itself.