This and That by Dennis Wade
Meme (pronounced meem) is an image, often humorous, video, piece of text, and the like, that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users. And this is how millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) take in their world via Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Such was the starting premise of Trial Masters, a seminar at the mid-year meeting of the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel in Charleston, South Carolina. What made the program fascinating was not the obvious message–use images to tell your story and keep things moving quickly. What took the program to the next level were real time questions to the focus group jurors listening to opening and closing statements in a mock trial brought against “Big Tobacco” by a husband who lost his wife, a 26 year smoker, to lung cancer.
The defense theme was “personal responsibility.” The deceased began smoking in 1967 (after the Surgeon General had conclusively linked smoking with lung cancer) and continued to smoke even after the warnings on each pack of cigarettes became more and more explicit. The plaintiff’s theme was nicotine addiction, making it “impossible” for plaintiff to quit. In some ways the jurors’ reactions were counter to my intuition. The Baby Boomers and Gen Xers bought into the addiction point whereas the millennials were more focused on personal responsibility and acceptance of risk.
In fact, as one 26 year old put it, “I was addicted to drugs–and I quit because I knew it was going to end bad.” While not quite as dramatic, the other millennials expressed similar sentiments about the consequences of a knowing acceptance of risk and the role of personal responsibility in confronting the hazards of everyday life. “If you use a ladder too short to change a bulb, fall, and break your leg, is it the manufacturer’s fault?” one 30 year old commented.
Hmm. Maybe we should learn to embrace millennials on our juries and focus on how to get our defense message across in a more meme-like way. And that’s it for this This and That. If you have any comments about this post, please call or email Dennis.