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May 16 2010

The Kim Kardashian Effect

OK, what could Kim Kardashian possibly effect that would be worthy of a post on a law-themed blog? Nothing really, but she is among the most searched names on the internet and one of the Top 5 “tags” that drives viewers to websites, so I figured why not get some traffic to the blog by just putting up “Kim Kardashian” and see what happens?

This woman is famous for no reason, has never been in a movie, original TV program, play, released a record, book, etc etc.  Her dad was OJ Simpson’s entertainment lawyer and was accused of having disposed of the bloody clothes from OJ’s crime. She then released an amateur porn video of her and little known rapper Ray-J, and the rest is history. She now gets $150,000+ to just show up at an event or a party.Someone must be interested in her doings if she is such a driver of web traffic.  She must be on to something, right?

But actually, though, having been selecting a jury in Manhattan this past month, it is clear that there is a “Kim Kardashian Effect” that requires trial lawyers to change gears and methodology in jury selection. The whole KK phenomenon may be annoying and irritating to those of my generation but it is par for the course for those youngest jurors 18-25. While I am generalizing, most of this population segment expects that 15 minutes of fame can lead to a career.  It is the expectation to be entertained constantly and to have every angle of one’s private life explored publicly.  Lawyers need to understand the very different mindset of this group of potential jurors and the way they receive and value information.

Every single reality show now has the mandatory session where the person makes a video diary at the end of the day and analyzes every single aspect of the past 24 hours. Everything is blown out of proportion and discussed ad nauseum. Phillip Roth, in his great book “The Human Stain,” called reality television “The hypersensationalization of ordinary human emotions.”  So what happens when someone raised on that form of entertainment becomes a juror? These jurors are more likely to talk about “their feelings” and “emotions” and most certainly, their view of interpersonal relationships than any other age group.

Also, you better keep things simple. If something can’t be explained in a few sentences, get a visual aid of some kind.  I can’t remember the last time I went to trial on a case of any significance without some item of evidence blown up into a huge exhibit. Charts, graphs, maps, ANYTHING just blow it up.  This group is used to getting all of its information through  sharp, quick, visual media and many never read a paper newspaper.  When you ask them “Where do you get your news from?”  they reply:”Jon Stewart (if you’re lucky),  my ISP server when I check my email, or my parents.”

The other necessary adaptation this answer requires is realizing that the trial lawyer now needs to keep up in some capacity with what’s going on out there.  Its always important for a trial lawyer to keep up with popular cultural references to use as conversation starters,  comparisons, analogies or to simplify a complicated issue. It used to be simple enough, just read the NY Times and the NY post and you pretty much have all spectrums covered. Not anymore.  Trial lawyers also need to Google themselves, their clients, their adversaries, their adversaries’ clients, the issue, etc.  Potential jurors will do so, no matter how admonished they are not to do so.

You also have to frame juror expectations and remind them that this is not a “Law & Order” or “CSI”  or “Judge Judy” episode.  Real court bears little resemblance to TV court and you need to diffuse those expectations.

Selecting a jury is all about trying to get total strangers to identify with yourself, your client and your position.  If you are operating only with a 20th century mindset and not adapting to new “celebrities” and popular culture trends, you are liable to find yourself voted out of the courtroom.

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