Studying potential jurors’ predispositions and reactions to a case before trial has been done for over 30 years in the form of mock trials and focus groups. But is there anything short of a one or two-day mock trial that can give you almost the same bang for less buck? With the explosion of people using the internet, online jury research sessions have been developed with many of the same techniques and can be conducted without the expense of in-person research. In most cases, research is done with jurors from the same or a matched venue, with discussion, interaction, and in short, the same process as a mock jury or in fact, a real jury. There are two main formats: focus groups and surveys.
Online Jury Focus Groups
As an example, one product is a web-based focus group session that allows attorneys and their clients to get valuable insights about how jurors are likely to respond to key case issues, as well as their feedback on plaintiff and defense strengths and vulnerabilities. The team watches in real time from their home or office. The moderator, also watching online, interacts with jurors who are previously screened for proper jury credentials and as having the necessary technology to connect to the session (computer with a camera and audio).
Six to twelve mock jurors from the venue (or a matching venue) participate in a streaming video focus group with a “Brady Bunch” style view. The consultant shows arguments live or previously recorded for each side of the case. The remainder of the time is typically a structured moderated discussion in which the jurors give their reactions. The most interesting part is that the jurors can interact with each other! Even the observers can communicate with the moderator and can send questions. More than one group can be run at a time, and they can run anywhere from two hours to four hours.
A number of companies offer this type of online format, but they range from using real people to be online jurors, like the format above, to using avatars to represent the individuals in the group. Some, like the above format, offer jurors from the actual venue. Others offer jurors from either a national pool or a pool that they feel can represent the venue in which you are going to trial. Most of these types of projects, are, as above, about a third to a half of the cost of an all-day mock trial.
Online Survey Research
Companies in the past offered phone surveys to collect data from a large number of potential jurors, for example, to support a change-of-venue motion or for jury-selection profiling. However, the alternative of online surveys done on a home computer has replaced many of these phone surveys. As an example, one online survey product allows you to gather data from 50–200 or more jury-eligible jurors from a specific geographic region. After being screened for jury eligibility and agreeing to a confidentiality contract, the participants provide responses to demographic questions and content questions about your case. There is either a verbal or video description of the case and there can also be pictures or graphics.
The advantage of a survey is that you can collect much larger samples than is possible from focus group research, which makes it well suited for liability and damages questions as well as jury profiling. Participants answer both yes/no and scaled questions as well as open-ended questions that net a narrative response, so you can have further insight into how your case is seen by your participants. As with the online focus groups above, this process nets reliable results at a half of the price of phone surveys. This type of research can be used before a case is filed, up to several weeks before trial.
While there are many cases that still require an in-person mock trial or phone survey, these new methods are not only effective in gathering information about your themes and your jury pool, and are also exceedingly cost-effective. Test your next case using these methods!
Ann T. Greeley, Ph.D., is a vice president with DecisionQuest, a national jury research firm.