Got a deep macho voice? Best not to become a court advocate, say researchers

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By Judge John Hack on

Study shows that confidence is far more important than sounding testosterone-fuelled when wooing judges and juries


Silver fox QCs take note — researchers have found that having a deep, matinee idol voice is not the courtroom turn-on you might imagine.

According to a linguist from the US and a legal theorist from Switzerland, invoking butch tones in court puts advocates on the fast track to finishing second. The route to first place at trial lies in sounding confident, but not overly masculine.

The research — highlighted in American publication New Scientist — claims to show that advocates appearing before the US Supreme Court and speaking like Christian Bale in Batman were more likely to go down in flames at judgment time.

Led by Alan Yu from the University of Chicago and Daniel Chen of Zurich-based university ETH, the researchers recorded 60 male lawyers intoning the opening statement:

“Mister Chief Justice, may it please the court”.

Yu and Chen then somehow managed to convince 200 volunteers to rate the masculinity of each voice.

In addition, the volunteers rated how attractive, confident, intelligent, trustworthy and educated they perceived the speakers to be, based on vocal characteristics including pitch, rhythm, pace, and pronunciation.

The researchers had to take into consideration factors such as the age and experience of each of the 60 lawyers, but ultimately — presumably after also waving a magic wand — the results showed that “lawyers rated as speaking with more masculine voices were more likely to lose at the Supreme Court, while those with more confident-sounding voices were more likely to win”.

The results were unexpected, with Yu telling the New Scientist:

“It was a surprise to all of us.”

But it wasn’t such a surprise to the hacks at the magazine, with the New Scientist claiming that a range of factors having nothing to do with the strength of legal argument can have an impact on rulings, including whether a judge has recently eaten.