The Consequences of Failing to Consider the Court of Public Opinion During Trial Preparation

CSI - Courtroom Sciences Inc.

What do most stories have in common? They have a good guy and a bad guy. These stories often recount the bad things that happen to the good guy. In the era of social media, narratives can be extremely dangerous. Virtually anyone can cherry-pick facts and spin them into a story designed to enthrall an audience. In the court of public opinion, stories can quickly go viral if they provide a narrative that captures the attention of a social media mob, with results that can be devastating for individuals and corporations.

You don't want to let someone else write your narrative; you want to write it yourself. In litigation, companies must have a litigation communications strategy surrounding their narrative. Courtroom Sciences knows that organizations have a limited time window to create the type of psychology-based messaging that will enable you to break through the noise and influence attitudes and opinions. Our crisis and litigation communications experts have the expertise and people to help your organization respond effectively and meet the challenges of the 24/7 news cycle, protecting your business, brand, and reputation. 

 How can the court of public opinion impact civil litigation success?

Sensationalized headlines, sound bites, and snippets can potentially sway the court of public opinion. Once a story goes viral, an organization has little or no control over how the narrative will unfold, leaving an organization vulnerable. These opinions can impact an organization's brand, reputation, and perhaps even the valuation of a publicly traded company. 

How Do You Prepare the Messaging? 

In any kind of crisis or litigation situation, there comes a critical point where someone will define or control the narrative, influencing the court of public opinion with what narrative is communicated. If you are a high-profile company or have a high-profile issue, people will pay attention to the litigation because they're looking to you for precedent and a compelling story to tell. They're looking to ascertain who are the good and bad guys or who's the hero.

Even though trial attorneys don't have control over the trial schedule, they generally know who will testify and have a general idea of their testimony. Trial attorneys and their teams must be prepared to leverage this knowledge in the court of public opinion. For example, suppose an early witness for the opposition makes a bold statement that becomes a headline. In that case, attorneys can't wait until it's their turn to put witnesses on the stand to make a rebuttal because by then, the narrative is already gelled in the minds of the public and becomes nearly impossible to change. 

Litigation communications strategy dictates that you want to refute statements like this as soon as possible and rebut with your own experts. You want to make people available who can offer a different point of view on each subject that you need to refute. Alternatively, you want to change the headline to be able to provide a different story that is even more compelling. 

Fighting to change the headline is the goal, but, at a minimum, trial attorneys must offer an equal alternative. This effort to control the narrative is not a one-time event. It's something that has to happen every day. Knowing who the witnesses will be and, generally, what they're going to say, allows attorneys to plan this strategy and come out each day prepared to influence the trial narrative. 


The Powerful Influence of Social Media Demands a More Sophisticated Communications Approach

When you consider social media, in particular, controlling the narrative is not necessarily about changing minds, it's about finding people who are already inclined to believe the story you are telling. You can't necessarily influence in 30-second clips, but you can find people who feel similarly to you or are preconditioned to side with you. 

The way social media allows you to position one person and their narrative and de-position another and their narrative has become a prominent tool in shaping the public's opinions. The public sees snippets and sound bites, many of which are sensationalized and may have very little to do with the essence of the case, and they use them to form their opinions. 

You must also consider social proof when planning crisis communications. The public, particularly on social media, is using social proof, looking around to get a sense of what other people are doing to determine their behavior. If your opposition controls the social narrative and drives a vocal majority, it could be silencing an unknown number of supporters for your side.

To overcome this obstacle and to encourage your supporters to become more vocal, you must provide them with some cover, most notably in the form of how strong your message is and what kind of evidence you're presenting. To motivate your supporters to speak out for you on social media publicly, you have to provide them with the material they can use to fight back. When you are engaged in litigation communication strategy, particularly when dealing with a highly emotional issue, you must prepare with a comprehensive social media strategy. 


Influence the Court of Public Opinion By Making the Issue About Something That Affects Other People

Commonly done by reptile attorneys in personal injury cases, defense attorneys can influence the court of public opinion by making the case about a more significant issue. One example is making it about something that affects other people so they can identify with it in their lives. If defense attorneys plan to use this strategy, it's something that they'll need to use from the very beginning, making it a part of the case. It should be included in the opening and continued as a theme woven throughout the trial through witnesses and experts who can support and expand on that point. This makes people feel empowered and compelled to weigh in with their opinions, providing an opportunity to control the narrative. 

The public is looking for justice. High-profile cases, whether for large corporations, small businesses, or individuals, will be tried concurrently in the courtroom and the court of public opinion. For a business, the media crisis that follows can affect your company's reputation and even your valuation for a publicly traded company. Trial attorneys can't afford to be unprepared because once a narrative begins to form, it can be nearly impossible to re-form it. A litigation communication strategy must be prepared in advance, with the best communication campaigns appearing like they're organic. 

Courtroom Science's crisis and litigation communications experts can help you define and control the narrative of any trial, influencing the court of public opinion. As part of the litigation team, our senior-level team combines communications expertise with scientific, psychology-based research and messaging. This makes for a comprehensive solution and ensures that communications align with litigation strategy. Speak with one of our critical communications experts to get started. 


Key Takeaways

●   Virtually anyone can cherry-pick facts and spin them into a narrative designed to enthrall an audience. 

●   In the court of public opinion, stories can quickly go viral if they provide a narrative that captures the attention of a social media mob.

●   The battle to control the narrative, change the headline, or offer an equal alternative has to happen daily. 

●   Courtroom Sciences' crisis and litigation communications experts are adept at creating psychology-based messaging to break through the noise and influence attitudes and opinions. 

●   Courtroom Sciences’ crisis and litigation communications experts work as part of the litigation team to ensure communications align with litigation strategy.

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