ALL THINGS JURY: Do you know what your jury is thinking?

By Mark C. Blankenship | Jun 8, 2007

CHARLESTON -- You and your client are facing a monumental challenge -– a lawsuit. After exhaustive research and analysis, you are confident you can secure a positive outcome for you and your client. It all comes down to the verdict.

CHARLESTON -- You and your client are facing a monumental challenge -– a lawsuit.

You've researched every interpretation of the law. You've studied every similar case in history. You've analyzed your opponent's tactics, his or her strengths and weaknesses. You've prepared your client and your witnesses to answer questions truthfully and easily. You are confident you can secure a positive outcome for you and your client.

After weeks and months, maybe years, of preparation, it all comes down to the verdict. In a stunning turn of events, there is a positive outcome. For your opponent. You planned for every contingency except one -– your jury.

By nature, juries are unpredictable, ruled by pre-existing biases and emotions. Because so much depends on your juror, you owe it to yourself and your clients to be forearmed with as much knowledge as possible -– to understand all of these biases jurors hold and how they fit into the decision making process. How often do you have the opportunity to learn what, why, and how your jury will be thinking before you go to trial?

Jury research is one of the most useful tools in preparing for a trial. What was once solely the tool of the high-profile multi-million dollar verdict cases is now sought after by a wide range of attorneys and their clients. Why should you consider adding jury research to your pre-trial preparations?

Jury research is your first chance to practice presenting your case to a live audience, giving you the opportunity to improve your skills as a communicator. Your first job as a lawyer is to spin a credible story and convince 12 people to believe you personally. Simply knowing the law isn't enough to win jurors to your side if you don't have the ability to relate to people from different social and economic backgrounds.

Presenting your case to an audience very similar to potential jurors also gives you the opportunity to test the themes of your case and receive instant feedback. You can quickly learn which arguments work and which fail, which witnesses may need more preparation, or how to communicate difficult aspects of your case. You also learn what influences a person to make decisions.

Once you understand why your jury makes decisions, you can begin to understand your greatest weaknesses. Advance knowledge of the weaknesses of your case allows you to plan to address a situation before it slips out of your control.

Using the knowledge you gain from jury research, you can help your client fully understand the risks he or she is facing. Your client may not be completely aware of his or her precarious situation. An impartial third party, such as a jury research firm, assists you in painting the total picture for your client without risking your working relationship.

Most jury research methodologies are geared more towards assessing the risks associated with your case and what strategies can be developed to address those risks. These same methodologies are not meant to quantify or predict jury awards and damages. Jury research can certainly provide direction in this regard but it is always more important to understand how jury eligible participants make an award and the associated decision criteria used to reach those verdicts.

In the legal system, there are few chances to make mistakes and ask for a time out or do-over. Fortunately, jury research is one of those chances. Working with a firm specializing in jury research you have the opportunity to try your case, test your arguments and practice your communication skills. Probe the minds of the people who will be making decisions for you and your client. You can know what your jury is thinking.

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 for projects for clients throughout nation during the last 20 years. They can be contacted at 304.343.7655 or www.rmsstrategies.com.

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