Magnus polls mock jurors about attitudes that may impact their views of a particular case. Jurors’ attitudes about money have obvious implications for their tendencies in awarding damages. Over the past ten years, Magnus has asked 5,198 mock jurors about their spending habits. We have found that 47% of mock jurors are self described “free spenders,” while 53% of mock jurors indicate they are “tight” with their money. It is interesting to note that, even in relatively lean economic times, almost half of the mock jurors polled reported liberal spending habits. This is an appropriate area for inquiry during voir dire that may be developed into a line of questioning that will ultimately determine whether a juror’s attitudes toward money are beneficial for the plaintiff or the defendant
When selecting a jury, it is important to remember that a jury is a single unit, comprised of people who make one decision. A jury is never tasked with making individual decisions, in which each juror’s decisions is independent from other jurors’ decisions. In the stress and rush to de-select the worst jurors from the final panel, some attorneys forget to take a few moments to review the composition of the jury, to ensure that the 6, 8, 10, or 12 individuals who are chosen as jurors will work together as one cohesive unit to reach a verdict.
Individual decision making is an important factor in jury decisions. Individual decision making is largely based on a juror’s life experiences, personality characteristics, attitudes, values, and beliefs. A properly conducted voir dire will have included questions assessing each prospective juror’s characteristics on all of these factors. Opening statements and closing arguments should also include references to each juror’s overall persona. But, focusing on individual characteristics of the jury members will only get the attorney part way in his/her quest to win the case. This is because the opinions of individual jurors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the juror in the group decision making task of reaching a verdict.
Group decision making entails all factors common to individual decision making and many more. Group decisions are also based on social influence factors such as commitment, conformity, consistency, attitude polarization, information pooling, and negotiation. Commitment, conformity, and consistency are known as the “3 Cs” in social psychology. Commitment refers to the impact of making a public statement about one’s opinions, conformity relates to group pressures exerted on individuals that make it likely for them to vote with the majority, and consistency is the process by which jurors try to appear unwavering in the beliefs they expressed during voir dire. Attitude polarization is the phenomenon by which extreme individual attitudes are synthesized into a more centrist opinion. Information pooling refers to the fact that no individual juror can process and retain every fact mentioned during trial, but by sharing or pooling information remembered by each juror, the jury as a group will ultimately base its decision on most of the available information. Bargaining and negotiation are part of every jury decision. The jury typically reaches several compromises when answering the questions on the verdict form, through the process of negotiation.
The above social psychological phenomena are complex and each is the subject of arduous scientific scrutiny. However, attorneys can excel in jury selection by remembering that interpersonal interaction is the process by which group decision making, including opinion change, occurs in the jury room. When you are selecting a jury, you must focus on how each juror you select will fit with everyone on the jury. The jury, as a group, is truly greater than the sum of its individual juror parts!
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Magnus Research Consultants, Inc. regularly polls mock jurors on a variety of issues. We are always interested to learn the similarities and differences among the jurors in the venues where we work within Florida. We have asked 697 mock jurors in Palm Beach County and 468 mock jurors in Duval County their political philosophy and their view of caps on damages. Although mock jurors’ opinions regarding damages caps were similar in the two counties (with 40% of those surveyed in favor of caps), their political philosophies differed considerably. In Palm Beach County, 27% of mock jurors described themselves as conservative, compared to 39% in Duval County. In Palm Beach County, 16% of mock jurors described themselves as liberal, compared to 10% in Duval County. Political views were strongly related to jurors’ opinions of caps on damages: the more conservative jurors were, far more were likely to favor damages caps than liberal or middle of the road jurors. The differences in these patterns of responses are substantial in various parts of Florida, lending strong support for the need to conduct jury research in the trial venue.
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Considerable media attention has been centered on the public’s attitudes toward attorneys. Attorneys are consistently rated negatively in national polls. Magnus Research Consultants, Inc. has worked with hundreds of attorneys over the last 10 years on a wide range of cases from slip and fall accidents to billion dollar commercial cases. We typically ask mock jurors who participate in research designs involving adversarial presentations to rate the attorneys on a variety of characteristics. Central among these ratings are jurors’ assessments of plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys’ likability. Data from almost 1,000 mock jurors have revealed that 91% of those surveyed rated the likability of plaintiffs’ attorneys as positive or very positive, with 84% of defense attorneys rating similarly. Our surveys have shown that, contrary to what the media would like us to believe, this sample of citizens has a generally positive regard for most of the attorneys with whom we have worked. Perhaps once viewed in the context of doing his/her job, abstract negative perceptions of attorneys diminish.
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Magnus examined the relationship between ratings of attorneys’ likability and verdict. Magnus has analyzed survey data obtained from 1,862 mock jurors who rated the likability of the attorneys who argued the case and indicated their verdict preference in a wide variety of civil cases. The results for plaintiffs’ attorneys were as follows: plaintiffs’ attorneys who were rated as positive or very positive were far more likely to win the mock trial than plaintiffs’ attorneys who were rated as negative or very negative (71% versus 39% plaintiffs’ verdicts, respectively). Defense attorneys’ likability had different effects on jurors’ decisions: defense attorneys who were rated as positive or very positive were likely to lose their case to a lesser extent than defense attorneys who were rated as negative or very negative (66% versus 86% of plaintiffs’ verdicts, respectively). Therefore, in a general sense, plaintiffs’ attorneys’ likability appears to have a considerably greater impact on the case outcome than defense attorneys’ likability.
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In 2009 and 2010, Magnus Research Consultants conducted a survey of 587 jury eligible citizens in the places where we worked throughout the United States. We asked the survey participants several questions about their personal economic condition, as well as their views about more global economic issues. Although it is Magnus’ intent to publish an article on these data, we will use this opportunity to preview some of the results.
Most of the survey respondents revealed a negative attitude regarding corporate America and our government. 90% of the people we surveyed believe our country was in a recession long before our government admitted it. 80% of the respondents indicated that they believe the mortgage crisis was caused by our government’s corruption. Finally, 70% of the survey respondents indicated they have little hope for the direction of our country provided by President Obama.
On a more personal level, 72% of the jury eligible citizens who participated in Magnus’ survey said they, or someone close to them, had recently experienced an economic downturn. And, when asked about their current economic condition, 45% of the respondents reported it as worse than it was at the same time 1 year ago, while 47% indicated it is about the same as before, with only 8% of the respondents saying they are better off than they were a year ago.
These data are revealing in the way they potentially impact jurors’ views of civil litigation. Lending credence to our consultants’ observations of mock jury deliberations and venire members’ answers to attorneys’ voir dire questions, the survey data indicate jurors’ personal situations may, in many cases, be more dire (at least, in their view) than a plaintiff’s condition following the event that precipitated the lawsuit. Furthermore, jurors’ increased skepticism concerning both corporate America and the U.S. government may have more of a negative impact on their views of certain litigants, particularly defendants in commercial cases, than the case related factors themselves. Magnus frequently consults with attorneys who are both surprised and dismayed to learn that the jurors’ decisions are often based more on their predisposed views of the world than anything they were told during the course of a mock or actual trial. However, it should not be surprising that most people are greatly affected by long term attitudes, values, and beliefs that are, for them, of far more significance than the facts of a lawsuit in which they are not personally involved.
Overall, both plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys are well advised to monitor the opinions of the laypersons who comprise their juries. In addition, because arbitrators are likely to have been impacted by the downturn in our economy, their predispositions are more important than ever in their decisions in complex litigation. The best way for you to know how extralegal factors, including those pertaining to the economy, will affect decisions in your case is to conduct scientifically based jury or arbitration research. “Do it yourself” jury research cannot eliminate the lawyers’ personal biases to the extent necessary to truly understand the human factors that impact litigation.
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A survey compared attorneys and jury eligible citizens on a wide variety of characteristics, including demographics, lifestyle factors, life experiences, health behavior, personality, and attitudes regarding lawsuits and tort issues. Analysis of the surveys revealed that, on 86% of the questions asked, attorneys and jurors responded completely different from one another, often in opposite directions. The survey results provide valuable insight for attorneys in understanding why jurors reach unpredictable conclusions regarding case facts and why jurors’ decisions are based on knowledge that is vastly different from attorneys’ knowledge.
Call the research scientists at Magnus to learn why knowledge of jurors predispositions will change the way you approach your next case.
Call Magnus’ jury selection experts to learn more about the impact of elderly jurors.
Over 200 jury eligible citizens, who participated as mock jurors on medical malpractice cases throughout Florida, were asked to whom they would give the benefit of the doubt in a civil case. Before hearing the case facts, more than two-thirds (69%) said that they would give the benefit of the doubt to the plaintiff. After deliberating to verdict, these same mock jurors were asked which party they wanted to “win” the case. Of the 69% of mock jurors who were initially predisposed to plaintiffs, 69% still favored the plaintiff after deliberations. More interesting, of the 31% who were initially predisposed to the defendant in a civil case, 70% favored the plaintiff after deliberations. Thus, jurors’ predispositions my change, given the facts of an actual case. These results from Venue DataLinkSM provide a partial refutation of the theory that jurors make up their minds early in a case, only rarely changing their minds after hearing the evidence.
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