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Joyce Tsongas

2017 Conference


Joyce E. Tsongas, a pioneer in the field of jury consulting, passed away with her family by her side on January 15, 2017. Joyce paved the way for modern day trial consulting and will always be known as one of the influential leaders in our field.

Joyce was the daughter of a speech teacher and college debater, so communication was in her blood. So much so, she was the first woman to graduate with a Master’s degree in Communication from Purdue University. She made legal communication her profession when she founded Tsongas & Associates in 1978. She frequently recalled the inspiration for her career. In the mid ’70s, she consulted with local politicians and other speech makers to improve the effectiveness of their language and delivery. She was asked by a local lawyer if she would watch his opening statement and offer advice for improvement. Little did she know she would soon be part of the birth of an industry. Wondering what other trial performances were like, Joyce went from courtroom to courtroom to observe the communication traits of lawyers. She quickly realized that lawyers needed help beyond delivering the opening statement. They needed help asking the right questions in voir dire. They needed help examining the witnesses. In fact, the witnesses also needed help delivering credible testimony. She found her calling.

Joyce started her business working from a folding card table in her kitchen. She liked to say that in her early days she was “raising her children, blueberries, and baby lawyers all at the same time.” Joyce learned of others across the country doing the same work she was. They joined forces and founded the American Society of Trial Consultants in 1982. Joyce sat as the organization’s second President.

Joyce’s business and reputation grew faster than she imagined, and she soon became known as one of the leading trial consultants in the country. That reputation never changed. She formalized the case strategy process still used by Tsongas consultants today. She developed a systematic approach to identifying and finding high-risk jurors in voir dire. She delivered hundreds of CLE programs. But Joyce will be best remembered for her work with witnesses. Joyce had an amazing knack for preparing people from all walks of life for testimony. “Joyce, I really need your help with this one,” clients would beg. Witnesses would come in the door a nervous wreck, or too eager to talk, or too defensive, or with any other common witness problem. Those who watched her would remark, “I don’t know what she said or did, but that witness completely transformed.” It was like magic. Those of us lucky enough to train under Joyce learned her technique, but she had a gift that belonged uniquely to her.

Even when Tsongas Litigation Consulting matured, moved from her home into prestigious downtown Portland office space, and grew in numbers, Joyce never lost sight of the family atmosphere. She had a heart of gold and treated every one of her employees like a member of her own family. She opened her home and lavish garden for company picnics, baby showers, client dinners, and staff retreats. She created a perfect blend of professional and personal.

In 2004, Joyce passed the torch to a group of employee shareholders so she and her business partner and husband, Dennis Brooks, could enjoy part-time retired life. They travelled, spent time with grandchildren, and of course, Joyce tended to her garden. But not even retirement could keep Joyce away from the work she loved. Up until 2016, Joyce blessed clients with her innate talent and wisdom.

Joyce left an indelible mark on the people she worked with, the consultants she mentored, and the entire trial consulting industry.

It is with great pride that the current members of Tsongas continue her namesake. We will continue to work to honor her legacy.

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