Focus groups like the ones produced by Realtime Reporters can provide a worthwhile way for trial lawyers to assess the merits of a case.
Owner Teresa Evans spoke with the West Virginia Record about her firm’s services. The company started out by supplying stenographers to take depositions and realtime trials, but after recording a few focus groups, the behind-the-scenes intrigue piqued her curiosity.
“I just thought it was totally fascinating watching it play out and I thought we could offer that service to our clients,” she said.
The firm still staffs court reporters around the state,, but a good portion of its current business consists of “mock trials,” a service Evans said she can offer for $3,000 to $10,000 per case. A less than $10,000 investment can give you 21 jurors to review your case, as well as all the recordings and hosting services. This is far lower than the typical cost of her competitors, Evans said.
The cost saving is realized by Realtime only supplying jurors, a facility and the recordings for the focus group. The attorneys bringing the case present their own material to the jurors. The other more expensive options include a moderator who is educated about the case details standing in for the lawyers actually working the case, substantially adding to the cost, she said.
Focus groups may be set up in a variety of ways, depending on the client’s wishes. It can be typical mock jury style, an informal panel feedback, or even a multi-day presentation where some evidence is withheld and then shared later after a bit of deliberation. Each client sets the format for how they want to conduct their particular focus group depending on the needs of their case.
Although Realtime Reporters has consulted on a couple of criminal prosecutions, the firm primarily assists with civil cases. One of the eye-opening results Evans recalls concerned an employee-injury case, which saw a surprising outcome.
Once the jurors hear a case presented, they are polled about their initial impressions. In this particular case, all jurors but one were convinced the plaintiff had deliberately caused his own injury and tried to pin it on the company, Evans said. But by the end of deliberations, a single focus group member was able to persuade the others into awarding the plaintiff damages for his on-the-job injuries.
“It literally sent chills down my spine,” Evans recalled. “Within an hour’s time, she had bullied and browbeat every one of those jurors into changing their minds.” It truly was an education in what can happen behind the doors of the jury room.
Lawyers occasionally use focus groups to determine if a settlement offer is realistic or whether they would be better off taking a case to trial. Sometimes a defendant may offer what the lawyers know is a generous settlement but the client may insist on a trial, believing they can get more or pay less. In those instances, a focus group hearing the case may provide a dose of reality and spare a client from losing the case in court.
As the focus group deliberates a case, its members not only comment on the legal merits but can also critique the delivery and presentation skills of the actual lawyers who will present the case at the real trial.
“It’s a great tool for attorneys, adjusters and clients to see behind the scenes as to what someone who could potentially be your juror will think about your case,” Evans said.