Counsel, That’s Not Your Normal Speaking Voice, Is It?

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This is a couple of weeks old, so avert your eyes if you object to that. Also avert them if you are a male lawyer with a really deep masculine-sounding voice, because this may make you cry like a little girl: a study has found that lawyers with deep voices are less likely to win.

Reported in New Scientist magazine (and summarized here), the study was conducted by a linguist at the University of Chicago and a "legal theorist" (quotes are only because I don't know what that is) with ETH Zurich. They got 60 sound clips of male lawyers arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court, and extracted from each the traditional opening line, "Mister Chief Justice, may it please the Court." After normalizing the volume levels, they then asked 200 volunteers to listen to each each sample and rate the speaker for "masculinity, attractiveness, confidence, intelligence, trustworthiness, and educatedness, as well as the probability of win." They also noted, of course, whether or not the lawyer had actually won the case.

They then took all the data and did some binary partitioning, regression analysis and a bunch of other hoopla and whoop-te-doo that shows the conclusions are mathematically and scientifically valid. Or so I understand it. Once all the R functions were quantified and they had performed the Litmus configuration and whatnot, the results were clear: "Individuals with higher masculinity rating are more likely to lose, while individuals with high confidence rating are more likely to win." (Emphasis in original.)

While the study concludes that these voice characteristics are "significant predictors" of success, the authors admit there could be other confounding factors. For example, one said, "lawyers who think they're going to lose may project a different kind of voice, perhaps overcompensating by [trying to sound] more masculine." If so, then the likelihood of success would be a significant predictor of voice characteristics, not the other way around. I haven't read the full study yet (it was presented last week but I haven't found it online), but it strikes me that there are so many variables affecting why you might win or lose a case in the Supreme Court—and whether you "win" or "lose" is not always clear, for that matter—that it would be very difficult to conclude anything from the correlation the study is reporting, binary partitioning or not.

I hate to say that, because I'd be all in favor of hearing macho male lawyers try to sound less masculine in court, which I think would be a real hoot. This might also provide more opportunities for another group of individuals with an inherently low masculinity rating, namely women. But sadly I think further study is still required here.

On the other hand, and speaking of gender, there is no doubt about the conclusion reached in what is currently the most-read story at, entitled "Spider has sex, then chews off own genitals." The male coin spider is believed to do this in order to slim down and become better able to defend his mate, an arrangement that the spider expert described quite accurately as "an extreme form of monogamy." It would probably also make your speaking voice less masculine, but again I think we need a lot more research into whether that actually makes any difference.