Dear Litigator: I regret to inform you that the jury has decided against your client, Big Business. Your client has been found guilty of negligence. Your client has been hit with a very large award to the plaintiff. It seems that, even though your client claims innocence, the jury simply felt your client should have known better.
I know it's not fair. Unfortunately, Big Business is held to a higher standard of responsibility than even most people hold for themselves. The public believes we should be able to have a high level of trust and confidence in your client. Further, your client has a DUTY to protect and serve its customers.
Your client has claimed innocence. Your evidence and witnesses did a fine job upholding that claim. Regrettably, the perception that your client MIGHT be guilty did far greater damage to your case. Many times, the idea that Big Business' goods or services might cause harm is enough to taint the jury's views. Many people find it very easy to jump to the conclusion that Big Business is irresponsible due to the almighty PROFIT motive. They often take the view that the bottom line is more important to Big Business than the health and safety of its customers and clients.
Hindsight is 20/20. The damage is done to your client in this case. How can you prepare your client for the next case? How can you prepare for another client's case?
Public perception of your client is very important to the jury's decision-making process. Big Business, and its cousin Large Corporation, need to plan for possible litigation problems that may arise as part of a larger community/public relations effort. The earlier the planning, the better, preferably long before any litigation is a possibility. You and your client must have a thorough understanding of the public image of the company. You must know how well your client is thought of as a corporate citizen. You must know the public's expectations of your client.
With this knowledge of the public's perceptions, your client can begin to communicate with the public, providing information to the community and the media that go to the core of good corporate citizenship. A well-planned and executed public relations campaign can go far to improving and maintaining a positive public image that will serve your client well, generally, and during litigation, specifically.
Applying the knowledge of your client's public image to the people in the jury box can go a long way to assisting your client's case. Knowing how people react to your client can help you counter negative preconceptions and build on positive reactions. If, or when, litigation occurs, take the time to understand jury tendencies and behaviors.
Trial consultants can assist you in understanding these tendencies. I will share two examples with you. First, be aware that people who believe an industry or business should be more regulated by government exhibit a lack of trust in that industry. Secondly, be aware that risk tolerance says a lot about how a person will view a company's actions, especially if a product or service has even the remotest chance of causing harm. These are just two indicators that can help you communicate with, and select, a jury. There are many general, and specific, data points that can help you and your clients with public relations efforts, trial strategy and jury selection.
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.