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November 14th, 2009
08:29 AM ET

50on50: Age = Influence?


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Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I was ready for my closing argument. The information I gathered from leading trial attorneys for my past two pieces added so much additional weight to the premise that the 18-49 year old audience demo is finished, I was ready to end it right here. But I asked one too many questions.

Age=Influence … Very Often

In case you haven’t been following this series: a 34-year-old trial lawyer acquaintance of mine alerted me to the fact that litigators tend to correlate the age of a juror with his or her potential influence. Generally speaking, the older juror will be the more influential one. That’s who you want on your side. It’s the influencers who we want in our TV and dotcom audience as well. With that knowledge, 18-49 seems so arbitrary.

Voices of Experience

I called my friend Cindy Vreeland about this. She’s the Vice Chair of the Intellectual Property Litigation Practice Group at the top tier law firm WilmerHale. University of Chicago Law School class of 1990. “You’d love to persuade all members of the jury,” says Vreeland. But, in reality, you hope “to persuade the jurors who are interested in the case and have the power to persuade the others.”

And that means older people, right Cindy?

Well, not entirely. “I do patent litigation,” she tells me. That can be highly technical. “We look at folks with scientific backgrounds. We think those are the jurors who have the potential to be influencers.”

And those people could be of any age. Their science background would be more relevant than their age. A young science professor would therefore likely trump an older gentleman farmer.

OK – so, based on the influencer theory, I’m still open to including young people in what I call my search for A NEW DEMO FOR A NEW AGE.

One More Call

I decided to make one more call, to a trial attorney I’ve been friends with for years. Stephen Apolinsky. Emory Law School Class of 1987. He’s argued more than 70 cases before juries. “There is a certain deference to older people on a jury” he’s noticed (thank goodness.)

He’s also noticed that, in his experience, the foreman tends to be older. Rarely is it one of the younger jurors. (Yes!)

But here’s a twist that I never expected.

Young People Are Generous

Apolinsky’s goal, as an attorney representing plaintiffs in lawsuits, is to get the most money possible for his clients. That’s where, he believes, youth can sometimes be preferable on a jury.

“I generally do injury cases – cases where someone is hurt.” Younger people “are more apt to give money than older people.”

Why is that?

“Older people have a greater understanding of the value of the dollar.”

That observation cuts both ways.

“On the defense side, I’d prefer slightly older jurors,” says Apolinsky.

How does Apolinsky, who turns 48 next month, define older?

“49 and 1 day.”

I just turned to my colleague Mark Engel and mentioned this “older people value money” thesis. “I wonder how long that will last,” said Engel, who describes himself as way out of the demo. Will today’s younger generation value the dollar when they get older, asks Engel. Or, given the way many of them have been raised, will they never be as financially prudent as their parents? After all, Engel observed, “we don’t value the dollar like our own parents did.”

I wish I had the answer to that long term question. But I’m focusing on the here and now. I’ve got to get that 18-49 demo sidelined before I turn 50 next month.

Keep My Hope Alive

One more thing from litigator Cindy Vreeland on choosing the right juror: “you want someone who will sympathize with your side of the facts.”

That’s exactly what I want.

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Follow Michael Schulder's battle against getting kicked out of the 18-49 demo here


Filed under: Michael Schulder • Opinion
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. trudy

    Well I'm glad to hear my voice finally valued,since I'm 51 nowm I think though that value and appreciation needs to com from the next generation down, didn't we appreciate our parents and their generation more when we had children ourselves and since the generation after me seems to have their children later and later in life the appreciation and value of our opinion may also be slow incoming.

    November 14, 2009 at 11:14 am |
  2. roy alexander

    Face it....50 years of age, is the Top of the Hill. The only way to go from there is down...its just how slow or fast you go..if you've gotten there, to me, your lucky !

    roy.

    November 14, 2009 at 9:07 am |
  3. Dr Rand Pink

    I love lox

    November 14, 2009 at 8:47 am |