Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What we can learn from Bernie Madoff

I saw an interesting post on the Crime & Federalism blog today (thanks to Rita Handrich, Ph.D. - you can find more tidbits from Ms. Handrich on Twitter by following @TheJuryExpert), about Bernie Madoff and the tools of influence he used in his (alleged) Ponzi scheme.

According to the article, there are six main principles of persuasion:
  1. Reciprocation,
  2. Commitment and consistency,
  3. Social proof,
  4. Authority,
  5. Liking, and
  6. Scarcity.
The authors pointed out that Mr. Madoff took advantage of five of these principles when running his scheme (reciprocation was the only one he didn't use).

Mr. Madoff asked his victims, er, clients, to start off small and increase their investment if they liked what they saw (commitment and consistency). Only "smart" or "successful" people were allowed to "invest" (social proof). Mr. Madoff was the former head of NASDAQ and ran his own investment firm (authority). Most of Mr. Madoff's victims were Jewish (liking). Finally, Mr. Madoff forced victims to prove that they were worthy of "investing" in his scheme (scarcity).

By manipulating people with these principles, Mr. Madoff was able to convince them to part with their money. Of course good ol' greed played a large role in people's willingness to part with their money.

These same principles can be used to persuade a jury to side with our clients.

Reciprocation is the act of responding to a positive action with another positive action, or vice versa. If you want the jurors to open up to you and your client, you must first open up to the jurors. If you want the jurors to respect you and your client, you must first show respect to the jurors.

Commitment and consistency means when you make a promise to the jury that you deliver on that promise. It means letting the jurors "sample" a little bit of your argument early on in hopes that they will be willing to follow it later on.

For social proof, you must persuade the jurors that it could be them, or their son or daughter, friend or neighbor, sitting alongside you at the defense table. Most folks in that courtroom will assume that your client did something or else he wouldn't be sitting next to you.

You must present yourself to the jury as an authority on the issue. In other words, be prepared. Do your homework and be confident.

It's not a universal maxim but, if a jury is going to acquit your client, they need to like your client. Those jurors need to have a reason to want to find your client not guilty. Be sure to give them a reason.

Finally, in trial there is a scarcity of available information. The jurors will not hear all of the evidence, they will hear all of the admissible evidence. They will be left to fill in the blanks. Give the jurors the information they need to fill in those blanks and acquit your client or point out the lack of information needed to convict your client.


Rick Horowitz said...

Anyone wanting more detail about these persuasive methods (and about 44 others) should take a look at "Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive."

What's really interesting to me is the number of counter-intuitive approaches that can both win, or lose, your case.

Nice post!

Paul B. Kennedy said...

Thanks for the comment, Rick. I will make it a point to check out that book.