Just the Facts, Ma’am

Just the Facts, Ma’am: Using a Rational Approach When Seeking to Sway Justice Seekers

You may have clients who seek justice because of wrongs (perceived or real) allegedly done to them by others. As good as it is to have a motivated client, you don’t want one that is so focused on seeing justice done that he or she appears to be on a legal kamikaze mission to the Supreme Court. As an attorney, you’ve learned justice comes in all shapes and sizes and may not always be custom fit for the client.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

A settlement may be the best justice your client can hope for. How do you get your client to switch tracks away from lofty goals to a more realistic outcome? A factual, rational argument may be the way to go.

Scientific tools used to determine why and how some of us approach justice

According to new brain scan research discussed in Science Daily, those who care about justice are swayed more by reason than emotion. Psychologists from the University of Chicago Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience found that some of us react more strongly than others to situations that invoke a sense of justice. Brain scans were used to study the thought processes of people with high “justice sensitivity.”

Subjects watched videos depicting behavior that was morally good or bad while being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain-scanning device. Researchers studied what happened in the participants’ brains as they judged a situation (like a person putting money in a beggar’s cup or kicking it away). Subjects rated how much they blamed or praised the actor seen in the video and completed questionnaires assessing cognitive and emotional empathy and justice sensitivity.

The right message for the right person could tip the scales

Not surprisingly, participants scoring higher on the justice sensitivity questionnaire assigned much more blame when they evaluated scenes of harm and registered more praise for scenes with one person helping another.

People ranking high with justice sensitivity showed more activity than the average participant in parts of the brain related to higher-order cognition, areas linked with emotional processing were not affected. This would indicate justice seekers are not emotionally driven, but are cognitively driven.

If your client, or the party on the other side of the dispute, is highly motivated by seeking justice, you should discuss things that are rational and logical. Focus on the person’s practical needs. People negotiate and do things for their own desires and needs – in this case, their logical needs (such as self preservation and conserving resources).

You shouldn’t avoid emotional considerations, since we are both emotional and logical, but it may be a logical, factual, practical argument that may be the most effective one if you want that person to see that the best justice is one that’s the result of mediation or negotiation.

In fact, recently I helped to negotiate a case that involved a client focusing on justice.  Much of that discussion focused on emotions, and fairness.  However, after working through the emotions, I was able to focus on rationalizing the decision based on sound logic.  The person, by profession, liked math.  As such, I focused on using mathamatics and the logic of math to ensure that the client understood that the math made sense.  In doing so, there was a sense of fairness and justice.

Understanding that there are times to work emotional issues and there are times to work logic is a critical to helping parties resolve disputes.  Moreover, logic doesn’t just have to be about facts, but can be about anything that relates to the case.  Helping the client see through their own fog by logic can help to create closure at the end of the day.