March 06, 2012 Practice Points

Survey Discredits Myths about Juror Perceptions of Women in the Courtroom

By Sabrina C. Beavens

In its most recent newsletter, Decision Quest, a trial consulting firm, provided a summary of the results from its yearlong survey of several hundred jurors from across the country concerning women in the courtroom.

According to Decision Quest, the responses to the survey discredited many myths about juror perceptions of women in the courtroom. Overall, 61 percent of respondents felt that the perception of female attorneys has improved over time. When asked to describe in their own words the differences between male and female attorneys, the responses demonstrated that jurors do not believe there are significant differences. For example, one juror wrote, “I believe female attorneys are just as qualified, effectual, and successful in the courtroom as their male counterparts.” According to Decision Quest, this sentiment was shared by a large contingent of the respondents.

One surprising discovery was that even though jurors expressed their personal belief that gender was not significant in attorneys, they doubted whether their peers shared the same view. For example, one respondent stated that “I don’t think [female attorneys] are any less qualified than males, but I would prefer a male attorney because, sadly, there are sexists in juries and they’re most likely going to favor male lawyers.”

The authors of the survey also concluded that even though old stereotypes “die hard,” the data collected indicated that women have “little left to fear.” For example:

• 82 percent of respondents disagree that female attorneys are “shrill and overbearing.”

• 95 percent of respondents stated that male attorneys are aggressive, compared to 91 percent who felt that female attorneys are aggressive.

• Many respondents who stated that female attorneys are more aggressive also noted that they believed aggression was a positive trait.

• Those who felt that female attorneys are less aggressive stated this was a positive trait because “[f]emale attorneys are better because they can typically invoke more emotion than male attorneys.”

The article concludes that the survey demonstrates that gender does not matter to jurors and that what actually matters is authenticity, organization, and sincerity.

Does this survey establish that the problem is actually attorneys’ perceptions about jurors? One article posted by Forbes casts doubt on the optimistic conclusions of the Decision Quest researchers and cautions that the results should be taken with a grain of salt. The author points out that most people respond to surveys in a manner that creates a favorable self assessment and that the survey does not “reveal either the presence or the absence of unconscious or implicit bias.”

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation,juror, perception, gender, bias

Sabrina C. Beavens works at Iurillo & Associates, P.A., Portsmouth in New Hampshire and St. Petersburg, Florida.

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