More often than not, clients and litigators contact a jury consultant once they believe that a trial is imminent. They view jury research as an important exercise to ready their case for trial and to assess the level of risk associated with trying the case to a jury decision.
While these are certainly valid reasons to conduct trial research, there are other benefits that accrue from conducting jury research much earlier in the litigation process.
One under-utilized benefit to conducting jury research is the guidance that trial research can provide in terms of direction regarding the discovery process. The learnings from mock jury panels can impact discovery efforts in important ways. Research findings can emphasize specific issues that may be of bigger potential value based on mock juror opinions. Often, mock jurors show us that issues we consider minor may, in fact, be much more important decision criteria than we imagined. These findings can provide the litigation staff with direction for their discovery efforts in terms of strategic direction for both content and analytical priorities.
Another benefit of conducting trial research early in the litigation process is direction for depositions. Early focus group sessions assessing opinions regarding key factors to a trial can also provide strategic direction to issues your team should emphasize for both adversarial witnesses and your key witnesses. Research results can indicate specific points of fact that need to be closely investigated in addition to "character" issues that may provide an avenue to vulnerability for key witnesses.
The contribution of jury research to the settlement discussion process can also be extremely beneficial. Knowing how jurors are likely to react to elements of the case, and their key decision criteria, inspires a level of confidence to settlement discussions. This is also important in dealing with clients that like having data as part of the decision-making process for settlement offers and considerations.
There are many early jury research options to consider. These options range from basic focus groups that require no participation from the legal team to Community Attitude Surveys that asses opinions important to the case.
The basic questions that need to be answered in terms of early jury research are based in timing (where you are in the litigation process) and objectives (what is the best research methodology that will assist me and my client right now?). Working closely with a jury consultant early in the litigation process gives litigators the opportunity to assess the cost/benefit of utilizing appropriate trial research.
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.