ALL THINGS JURY: Looking forward with post-trial juror interviews

By R. Robert Samples | May 21, 2008

One of the most effective research methods in a trial consultant's toolbox is the post-trial interview with members of the actual jury panel.

One of the most effective research methods in a trial consultant's toolbox is the post-trial interview with members of the actual jury panel.

Once a relevant trial is concluded, jury consultants work with the court to obtain permission to speak with jurors who have finished their work on the jury pool. An open-ended questionnaire is prepared in order to have a standard format for conducting these interviews on an individual basis.

The obvious value of these exercises is the opportunity to talk to jurors who were exposed to a real trial ... not a truncated mock exercise. These jurors provide insight to all facets of a trial. Topic areas for discussion with jurors are varied, but all provide significant information that can benefit litigators and their clients in the future.

Certainly, the most important questions focus on the decision criteria utilized by the panel and the group interaction that influenced the verdict. However, much more can be gleaned from these interviews.

As I have written in this column previously, predicting human behavior is virtually impossible due to the universe of influences that individuals are constantly bombarded by and carry with them in the form of opinions and personality traits.

However, there are always key take-aways from jury research that are invaluable for litigators. Some of the more important learning areas gained from post-trial interviews that cannot be gained in as much detail from mock exercises include:

Litigator Feedback -- input on your, and your team's, style and ability to relate to a jury. And, unlike mock exercises, the same information can be obtained about your opponents (you never know when you, or your client, may face the same opponent or similar presentation style).

Plaintiff/Defendant Exposure -- another invaluable piece of research is reaction to the plaintiff and defendant. You may face similar plaintiffs and defendants in future litigation. Communication strategies can be developed to exploit, or build, images that are more "jury friendly" based on these findings.

Witness Utilization -- the jury, and the independent research consultant can take you places that can be difficult for you to go on your own. Particularly when reaction to a witness is negative, trial consultants provide a "don't shoot the messenger" opportunity to be politically expedient.

Decision Criteria -- without question, the most important area of exploration with jurors is a thorough investigation of their personal, and the group's, interaction and discussion as to how they arrived at a particular verdict. Probing questions are utilized to understand the thinking and reasoning behind the various elements that lead to the verdict. These findings are critical to similar trials that litigators may face in the future.

Post-trial juror interviews are extremely underutilized. They are a very efficient, and cost effective, method to assist litigators and their clients in terms of future litigation and understanding how to prevent future litigation liability.

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.

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