CHARLESTON -- In my last column, I discussed the relevance of quantitative surveys in jury research in which telephone surveys are used to elicit responses to individual questions giving the client projectionable results.
While there are minor obstacles in using this type of research, telephone surveys are still a useful tool in the litigation arena, primarily for jury selection and change of venue studies. However, the real essence of jury consulting lies within qualitative research.
Qualitative research allows us to "get behind the numbers." There are many types of qualitative research used in trial research - the most popular being mock trials and mock jury focus groups. These groups consist of jury eligible participants in a specific venue.
Participants are called at random and must pass a stringent screening process prior to being invited to attend these sessions.
The sessions usually last one day with participants being exposed to each side of the case. Participants complete a questionnaire after each witness/testimony in order to give a rating to individual presentations as well as see where each juror is "leaning" at that particular moment in the exercise. At the conclusion of the presentation phase of these sessions, participants are divided into separate panels and deliberate to a verdict.
The deliberation process provides mock jurors with the opportunity to discuss important issues while giving valuable feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the themes and messages that most impacted their decision making process. These deliberations allow researchers and attorneys to observe elements of small group dynamics. The research team and the attorneys are given the opportunity to see the interaction among various personalities during these discussions.
Many times during the deliberation process, an "expert" juror emerges. This juror is usually more vocal about the issue and/or has some prior experience relevant to the case at hand. This often causes other jurors to view this juror as an expert and look to this person for advice on how to rule. On the other hand, the "mousy" juror, who may feel outnumbered or not as knowledgeable, may not express an opinion which would result in a totally different verdict.
For this reason, the focus groups that follow deliberations are extremely important. It is at this point where the moderator plays a key role in getting behind the verdict form – each mock juror ("expert" and "mousy") is asked their opinion on the major aspects of the case and subsequent deliberations providing valuable feedback on how each personality type views each case theme/strategy. An independent moderator must organize and make sense of the arguments that resonate with each personality type. This provides the client with valuable tools to utilize in selecting a jury and refining case strategy.
Equally important as refining presentations and providing jury selection insights, mock jury focus groups can alert researchers and attorneys if parts of the story are being left out. You simply can't learn that during a 10-minute telephone survey. Qualitative research provides attorneys with cost-effective, meaningful, in-depth feedback unlike a telephone survey. Qualitative research gives feedback on the issues that resonate with jurors -– one of the primary goals of successful case presentation.
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.