That fact is one of the central memes of the new film "The Stanford Prison Experiment." The movie is based on an actual experiment in the early 1970s, conducted by Stanford psychology professor, Philip Zimbardo.
First there were simulated arrests. The miscreants were brought in a police car to a simulated prison setting.
There a few male students, who played the prisoners, pushed back on the guards. That was only after they realized their rights were being violated.
Soon enough, though, they conformed - and began having breakdowns. The experiment, which was supposed to last two weeks, was halted early.
Given the deference human beings, even the rights-oriented, pay to authority, it's obvious that in court action, prosecutors and plaintiffs often have the upper hand. Defendants, after all, are on the defense. Of course, that position of strength can be lost. That happened in "Pao v. Kleiner."
What's puzzling is that those in the defense loop, ranging from public relations firms to the lawyers, aren't more effective in undermining this advantage. Yet, that can be easily accomplished through communications.
Do those communications wrong, especially in this era of social media, and the defendants can become emblematic of evil. That will affect everything from the vibes the jurors and judges (in a bench trial) pick up to the brand to the stock price.
The legal system is an institution established and operated by human beings. Points of law can turn on to be minor players. Congress recognized that when it overturned the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Ledbetter gender pay lawsuit. What was created was the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
How should the defense be telling its story? There are 4 fundamentals, at least in this second decade of the 21st century. Here is my published article with the details.
- Put a human face on every aspect of litigation. Ralph Nader had been a genius in that, framing the legal push as the consumer movement.
- Have human beings with a heart on the front lines. No talking heads, especially if they are lawyers. In testifying in "Pao v. Kleiner," defendants allowed the jurors (and media) to see them sweat.
- Put yourself and your allies out there in social media. After all, the journalists are tweeting away in the courtroom (if the judge allows that). The defense should be calling in favors from those who already have a formidable online presence.
- Be imaginative. Buttonholing establishment media with the party line and blanketing the world with press-release platitudes trigger glaze-over. Why not find an angle on your story that influential but off-beat media will respond to? An example would be to attract the attention of Abovethelaw.com journalist Joe Patrice.
Takeaway: Being not-human and boring can have you written off as guilty. If you were innocent, you would be doing public relations backflips getting your story out there.