It has escaped precisely nobody that the new CBS drama “Bull” is playing a bit loose with the truth. In fact, that’s part of the joke. The title character is Dr. Jason Bull, played by Michael Weatherly, and he certainly looks quite a bit different than the real-life character he is based on: Dr. Phil McGraw. The idea is that he uses advanced technology and brilliant psychological insights to help the wrongly accused. Half CSI technology expert and half psychiatrist, he helps them develop bulletproof defense strategies and predict exactly how juries will react to the evidence and the testimony.
Many people may not realize that before Dr. Phil was a TV celebrity, he was well known as an expert in trial consulting. The show is pure entertainment, not a documentary, so dramatic license is to be expected. However, it can be really instructive to compare the fantastic leaps on the show with the sweat equity of true jury consulting firms working today.
A Hit Show Full of Myths
Here are three myths that are only true in the world of Bull
1. “We’ll Know How They’ll Vote Even Before They Do”
That quote comes from a neurolinguistics expert named Marissa, played by Geneva Carr. She is trying to convince a lawyer about the value of jury consulting, but there are two reasons why this just isn’t right. First of all, nobody can say exactly how any individual will react. That’s science fiction. Jury consultants can factually discuss demographics and statistics. The second part is that most lawyers don’t need convincing. They know how valuable jury consulting is. They often seek out help with complex cases where how you say it is just as important as what you say.
2. All Is Fair in Pursuit of Truth
Bull is the latest in the long line of brilliant but abrasive geniuses in fiction who take the law in their own hands, including the original Sherlock Holmes, the OCD detective Monk and the pain-killer addict Dr. House. It makes good TV, but true trial consulting firms couldn’t survive if they broke the law by doing things like bugging potential jury members or attorneys, as Bull does. Dr. Phil himself pointed out that, “First episode, I think he breaks about three laws before the commercial break. So, let’s just be sure that this is inspired by but not biographical.”
3. After You Call the Trial Consultants, They Call All the Shots
The truth is that the jury and trial consultants are there to support and work for the client’s attorney. They can put together shadow juries, called “mirror juries” by Bull, who match the makeup of the real jury in terms of demographics. This is actually quite common for high-dollar value trials. In the end, though, it amounts to professional advice about witness preparation and potential jury reactions. The final call belongs to the client and the attorney.
Bull is an entertaining show, full of futuristic tech, clever plot twists and fascinating psychological profiles. What it is not is a true to life depiction of jury consulting. One thing that is true is when Bull says, “It’s not enough to tell the truth, you have to tell the truth effectively.” For help with that, you can believe in the science of jury consultants.