A theme is a recurring or unifying subject or idea. It is a quick, cohesive statement that focuses the jury’s point of view by telling the members what to expect from your side’s proof and why they should decide the case in your favor. The theme of your case should be the principal idea, point, topic or argument that reflects your side’s contention of, say, how a car wreck happened or how a car wreck injured you. The theme encompasses the important legal, factual, evidentiary, social and even the psychological issues of the case. Sounds like complicated statement, right?
Well, the theme of the cases shouldn’t sound complicated, even if it is. The statement of the theme of your case should be brief, persuasive, sound uncomplicated that cuts through the information bubble and leaves a lasting impression.
A theme is not a mere repetition of legal theories contained in the complaint. It isn’t a cute cliché that substitutes for facts or law. It is never a phrase that uses legalese or hyper technical words. Here is an example of what a theme is not: “This is a case about a woman who negligently drove her vehicle into my client’s motorcycle.”
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO STATE A THEME OF A CASE TO A JURY?
Today the English language contains 500,000 usable words; five times more than the time of Shakespeare. The number of books in top libraries doubles every ten years (don’t even get me started on the internet). But information is not knowledge. While you can mass produce raw data and incredible quantities of facts and figures, experience separating the significant from the irrelevant, and making value judgments. A theme assists the jurors in cutting through the avalanche of information and asset’s them in developing the knowledge they need to decide the case.
A theme personalizes case issues and helps jurors form impressions. A trial is not a battle of words but a battle of impressions. Individuals tend to receive and process new information by scanning memories of past experiences. Social scientists term such stored memories as “Memory Organization Packages” or MOPS. Psychologists use the term “schemas”. he process of memory scanning begins with the first few blurbs of new information. Primacy is extremely important. If the real message gets lost in the long dissertation of facts, the listeners may miss the real theme.
THE THEME ACTS AS A PSYCHOLOGICAL ANCHOR FOR THE JURY
As information pours into the listener’s mind during the course of a trial, the anchor or theme will rise to the surface and pull the listener back to the real meaning of the case. Therefore, the theme or themes of your case should be simple and easily understood. The themes should blend with the life experiences of the jurors. The brief impactive theme should create an immediate reaction in the jurors’ minds of “Yes! That happened to me.”
Jurors have become accustomed to analyzing and understanding entire stories through the receipt of brief thematic messages. Television and radio advertisements are brief but complete communications. News programs convey informative and understandable stories by focusing on the people involved and a combination of taking head and action presentations that last only a couple of minutes. A lawyer must understand this and related the theme to the jurors in a familiar way.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THEMES?
The purpose of the theme is three-fold:
- TO CONVEY THE ESSENCE OF THE CASE TO THE JURY
What did the defendant do wrong? What could the defendant have done to prevent the injury? What are the injury and impairment? The case theme will be chosen on the basis of the strongest point in your case.
- TO CREATE AN UNDERSTANDING ON THE PART OF THE JURORS
The quick, efficient theme message must reach the jurors at a level they can translate into real life experiences. Each juror will analyze the incoming information in accordance with his or her own perceptions and life experiences. Thus, a theme must have a universal application.
- TO MOTIVATE THE JURORS TO TAKE ACTION
A theme can generate juror responses based on anger, empathy, sympathy or a simple feeling of fairness.
CAN A CASE HAVE MORE THAN ONE THEME?
Absolutely. Many trial lawyers and consultant recommend creation of a single case theme. We don’t agree and don’t think this is realistic. In actuality, a jury trial contains many themes created for the purpose of enabling a better understanding of all aspects of the case. For instance, in a simple Tennessee or Georgia car wreck case is still going to need themes for liability (whose fault is it?), damages and jury motivation. Additionally, there should be a theme for each witness.
Here are some examples of effective themes:
“While it’s true this was an accident, all we are asking is the defendant to take responsibility and make things right.”
“This case is an example of corporate greed over public safety.”
“The defendant expects my client to pay for his mistake.”
If you have a Tennessee or Georgia car wreck case and it wasn’t your fault, and you want to know more about how your case should be tried, give Dennis and King a call at (423) 529-4130 or fill out one of contact forms. Our award-winning attorneys would love to talk to you. We are happy to help even if you don’t hire us.