Blankenship

CHARLESTON -- Lawyers spend years honing their skills as advocates for their clients. With each filing, brief, motion, argument, and trial, lawyers practice the best way to tell a client's story in mediation, before the bench and in front of a jury.

When preparing for litigation, few are as able researchers as lawyers. Instinctively knowing where to find precedent and case law in a library full of information, a lawyer can formulate the structure of a case. Lawyers have also found the usefulness of completing research on the uncontrollable forces in a courtroom, such as the jury. Through surveys and focus groups, a lawyer can form a clear picture of how a juror may be reacting to a client and his or her case.

One of the keys to effective focus groups or mock trials is presenting unbiased facts about a case to the participants. This allows the participants to base their reactions on the facts and how they understand those facts in light of their own preconceived ideas. Mock jurors and survey participants can be confused by an attorney's client-bias.

It is this ingrained client-bias that makes a lawyer so good at advocating for his or her clients. A lawyer always presents a client's case in the best light possible, helping guide a jury to side with his or her client. It is this ingrained client-bias that also makes it nearly impossible for a lawyer to be objective enough with focus group and mock trial participants to dig deep into underlying decision-making forces.

An attorney's focus should always be on winning his or her case. There is more to be learned in discovering the weaknesses in a case – the themes and ideas that can sink a case – by "losing" at mock trials and focus groups. Because attorneys are trained to always advocate for his or her client, it can be difficult to approach a focus group or mock trial with the express purpose of finding holes in a case strategy.

Researchers, on the other hand, are trained to be unbiased and objective. Researchers are more able to delve into underlying prejudices, preconceived ideas, and opinions of focus group or mock trial participants. Lawyers are often too intent on influencing opinions as opposed to uncovering and analyzing these opinions.

Researchers also offer a measure of anonymity to participants that lawyers cannot. Many times, participants can be unknowingly biased toward the side that has hired a research firm, skewing results beyond usefulness. Using a third-party research firm encourages participants to give real, honest opinions. Researchers are trained to understand how bias will affect opinions and work with or against those biases.

In preparing for a trial, attorneys have aid with every bit of minutiae. There are paralegals and other lawyers to collect depositions, sift through paperwork and filings, and gather evidence. The legal team works together like a well-oiled machine. The lead attorney is responsible for pulling all of the information together into a concise and convincing argument. There is often so much information available that it can be overwhelming deciding what will be most effective.

Calling on the services of a research team can help the lead attorney focus on a strategy that will serve his or her client's interests. A researcher partners with the attorney, helping the attorney think "big picture." With the help of a research team at the beginning of the litigation process, an attorney will also have a good feel for the direction he or she needs to point the investigation and legal research. For example, knowing the kind of information that might influence a jury, an attorney will have a good idea of the questions to ask a witness during depositions or at trial.

Lawyers are artists, crafting masterful arguments and painting pictures to convince judges and juries of the validity of his or her client's case. Researchers, on the other hand, are scientists, objectively investigating human reactions and social interactions of communities or juries or even judges. When the art of litigation and science of research come together as one, everyone wins.

Blankenship is a senior vice president with RMS Strategies, a communications and opinion research agency headquartered in Charleston. RMS Strategies has executed extensive public relations plans and litigation research projects for clients throughout the nation during the last 20 years. They can be contacted at 304.343.7655 or www.rmsstrategies.com.

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