Focus groups, mock trials, and larger data studies are a powerful tool for gathering qualitative and quantitative data and gaining insights into jurors' perceptions, opinions, and experiences as they relate to a pending case. When executed effectively, focus groups can provide valuable information that can greatly alter the course of your trial preparation. To ensure the success of your study, it's crucial to plan and conduct the session with precision. Let’s explore 5 essential tips for running a successful jury research study.
5 Essential Tips for a Successful Jury Research Study
1. Define Clear Objectives
The foundation of any successful jury study lies in having clear and specific objectives. Before diving into the planning phase, take the time to define what you want to achieve. Is your goal issue-spotting, testing graphics, witness preparation/feedback, testing your opening statement, finding the right damages anchor, or something else? Focus groups differ from mock trials which differ from big data studies. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Further, within those categories are numerous ways to run the study. Knowing your objective is essential to properly choosing the type of study and properly designing it.
2. Recruit a Diverse and Representative Group
The success of any jury research projects depends on the strength of its roots. Participants must match the demographics and backgrounds of the jury pool. Consider demographic factors such as age, gender, socio-economic status, and occupation when recruiting participants. Recruit from the trial venue whenever possible (small towns or high-profile cases may warrant a different approach or additional assistance). Consider where you are finding participants. Recruits from friends, colleagues, family, or local Facebook groups are unlikely to produce valid research results. When in doubt, hire a professional recruiter.
3. Remain Anonymous
The success of a focus group is not only dependent on the questions asked but also on how the session is conducted. Study results will be tainted if jurors know which side you represent. Often-overlooked clues to who you are can be found in: signage on the building of the focus group facility, firm pens or pads of paper, calling jurors to confirm attendance from a firm phone number, and others. Be cognizant of how you interact with jurors and any clues you are unintentionally giving away regarding your identity.
4. Fight for the Opposition
One of the biggest mistakes in attorney-conducted research is a push, consciously or not, to win the case. Focus groups, mock trials, and big data studies are not trial. The intent is to lose and learn from the loss. In advocating for your client, you miss the opportunity to hear juror concerns, gaps in evidence, and worst-case scenario. In losing the research study, you are learning how to win at trial.
Much of the attorney bias occurs before jury verdict research begins. In preparing for the study and determining which arguments to present, it is common for attorneys to miss or downplay the opposition’s strengths.
For many, remaining neutral or advocating stronger for the opposition is hard or impossible. In these instances, you need to hire a neutral moderator or consultant to design and run the study for you.
5. Test and Re-Test
Often, attorneys plan to test a case in a single focus group or mock trial. While much will be learned from one study, ideally a series of two or more will be run to test implementation of findings from the first study. In the first study, you learn the greatest weaknesses in the case. Use that information to reframe the case, fill gaps, change order of proof, or work with witnesses. Then, retest to determine if your work has paid off. Are the results of the second study better? Do you still need further work? By the time you are done running research studies, you should be seeing consistently good results. Then, when you walk into trial, you have thoroughly tested, analyzed, reworked, and retested the case.
Running a successful jury research study requires meticulous planning, thoughtful execution, and a commitment to transforming insights into actionable outcomes. By defining clear objectives, recruiting a representative group, keeping participants in the dark about which side you represent, making the opposition stronger, and retesting, you can greatly refine your trial practice.
About the Author
Jessica Brylo is the owner and lead litigation consultant at Trial Dynamics, a consulting firm dedicated to plaintiff’s civil and criminal defense litigation. She specializes in case framing, jury research, opening statement development, witness preparation, and jury selection.
Over the past two decades, Ms. Brylo has spoken to thousands of jurors and conducted hundreds of mock trials, the results of which she uses to guide case strategy and framing on cases ranging from soft tissue injuries to 9-figure catastrophic injury cases and multi-billion dollar class-action lawsuits.
Ms. Brylo originally trained with one of the nation’s leading trial consultants, David Ball, Ph.D., and is one of a handful in the nation who has studied Arizona Project (1996) videos of real juries deliberating. She has a JD and Masters in Psychology, both from Duke University, and is a board member of the American Society of Trial Consultants (ASTC).
Ms. Brylo specializes in cases involving personal injury, car wrecks, wrongful death, medical malpractice, product defect, premises liability, trucking litigation, medical negligence, civil rights, mass torts, and employment law.