ALL THINGS JURY: Reaction to plaintiff a key component of 'jury think'
R. Robert Samples Aug. 12, 2008, 9:00am
CHARLESTON -- In a previous column, I wrote that jurors utilize long-held opinions and attitudes when serving on a jury panel. But, what are some of the major influences and emotions that impact "juror think?"
Of course, the answer is complex. There are many, many facets of human behavior that come into play when people serve on a jury panel. These are both internal and external factors. Internal factors, meaning the beliefs and attitudes held prior to exposure to the jury trial, and external factors, including the small group dynamics that come into play during the deliberation process.
One of the most important aspects of jury research and, a jury trial, is how jurors react to key individuals on a personal level. While jurors will have opinions and reactions to all of the individuals taking part in the trial process, none is more important than reaction to the plaintiff. After all, the plaintiff is responsible for the "call to action" of the jury trial. In addition, the plaintiff is usually an individual, not a corporation or other organization. People can readily react to individuals on a basic emotional level.
The good news is that with the advent of video depositions, jury consultants can obtain valuable insight to how jurors may react to the plaintiff on many levels, including the degree of empathy and sympathy the plaintiff endears. This, of course, has a major impact on the credibility, and believability, of the plaintiff.
However, knowing how jurors react to plaintiffs is only the starting point. The goal of good jury research is to develop specific strategies and tactics designed to either build on the empathy/sympathy for the plaintiff, or undermine it. This is a slippery slope and calls for a deft touch. Qualitative jury research (mock jury focus groups/mock trials) allows for the litigation to test various tactics to this end.
The key component to impacting the opinions of the plaintiff usually falls back to a reliance on the facts of the case and/or the reliability of the plaintiff. When the facts aren't enough, litigators often "help" the jury panel evaluate the plaintiff from various perspectives. These perspectives may include their specific expertise on the pertinent subject matter, their character and values, or their related experiences that are analogous to the primary elements of the trial.
Regardless of the direction that questioning of the plaintiff may take, the tactics utilized must be tested. Yes, people react differently to individuals. For this reason, jury consultants must also rely on their research in a quantitative manner, as well as a qualitative manner. The goal is to develop plaintiff strategy and tactics in a qualitative format (understanding how mock jurors react to the plaintiff) and testing methods to impact juror reaction to the plaintiff in a quantitative format (which tactics work best for the majority of "jurors").
This is the beauty of jury research. It allows researchers and the litigation team to develop communications strategies based on actual elements of the case. In addition, jury research allows for the testing of these strategies and tactics.
Samples is president of RMS Strategies, a communications and opinion research agency headquartered in Charleston. RMS Strategies has extensive crises communications, counseling and litigation research experience and has worked for clients throughout the nation during the last 25 years. They can be contacted at 304.343.7655 or www.rmsstrategies.com.