Turning Skeptics into Believers

Turning Skeptics into Believers

Although social scientists have been conducting research on juror and jury decision making for over 40 years, there remains a subset of attorneys, adjusters, risk managers, and corporate executives who are skeptical about the usefulness of mock trials, focus groups, attitude surveys, and other research methods. These skeptics are usually uninformed or inexperienced about jury consultants or former clients of jury consultants with whom they had a negative experience. Those who are uninformed/inexperienced regarding jury research’s benefits often do not know the limits of their own knowledge and expertise. Over the years, Magnus’ consultants have been told by prospective clients: (1) “I don’t believe in jury research”; (2) jury research is more an art than it is a science; (3) jury research is as accurate as voo doo, a crystal ball, or astrology; (4) “I know everything there is to know about jury behavior”; (5) “I have been trying (and/or litigating) cases for decades and there is nothing new a jury consultant can tell me”; (6) jury consultants’ work duplicates attorneys’ work; (7) “I know my case and my client better than any jury consultant will know them”; and (8) there is no money in the trial budget for non essential expenditures such as jury research. (The list of reasons is actually much longer, but these reasons are the most common objections we have heard.) Magnus’ response to most of these reasons for an unwillingness to conduct jury research is typically that: (1) we always learn something in every jury research exercise that we would never have learned absent conducting the research; (2) just as experts are retained in other areas of a lawsuit, it makes sense to retain experts in human behavior and decision making (both of which, arguably, are not usually among attorneys’ skills); (3) any information that helps in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of a case provides benefit for the case, and client; (4) because there is a high likelihood that opposing counsel is conducting jury research, the attorney who goes to mediation, arbitration, or trial without the knowledge gained from research is going to start out behind; and (5) if jury research is conducted, the attorney can rarely be accused by his/her client of not properly preparing the case. Other than the time and money required to conduct scientifically proper jury research, Magnus believes that, in today’s world, there is no valid reason for an attorney’s unwillingness to learn new information about the case.

The second category of skeptics arises from negative experiences with a jury consultant. These negative experiences often arise from an attorney’s work with an uneducated, inexperienced, unethical, or unprofessional jury consultant. Unfortunately, anyone who desires a career as a jury consultant has only to refer to himself/herself as a jury consultant; there are no regulating or governing bodies that control entry to the profession. Many attorneys are uninformed consumers of jury research and consulting services and, instead of retaining the services of qualified scientists, merely retain a consultant they like or who answers their questions in a socially desirable manner. For example, the Magnus partners recently met with prospective clients, who asked us to quote our “win/loss” rate. Not only is this an impossible question to answer, scientifically speaking, we are prohibited from doing so, both by our professional ethics and the organizations that regulate our work. Needless to say, the client retained the services of another consultant who glibly provided the (incorrect) answer the prospective client wanted to hear. We have numerous examples of attorneys who retain a jury consultant for all of the wrong reasons, have a negative outcome, then place Magnus in the same category as the other consultant. Magnus’ Director of Research, Dr. Melissa Pigott, has qualifications, experience, and expertise that are unparalleled in our industry; none of our clients will say otherwise.

In sum, Magnus stands by its promise to provide custom designed, scientifically based, jury research that provides information in a forum that cannot be found via other means.

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