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Jury Profiling: Multiple Levels of Jury Research

Jury “selection” does not exist in the United States. Attorneys choose individuals to serve on the jury by “deselecting” from jury service those individuals who they expect to be unfavorable to their side. Identifying and systematically eliminating pro-plaintiff or pro-defense jurors could be your secret weapon in winning a trial.

Traditional jury selection techniques are often based on stereotypical notions about the influence of juror characteristics on verdict behavior. If you’ve ever tried to connect a potential juror’s gender, race, occupation, social status, marital status, age, religion or demeanor to their tendency to vote guilty or award higher damages, then you’ve probably exercised some of these preconceptions. Needless to say, none of these stereotypes has any scientific basis.

In contrast, scientific jury profiling uses empirical techniques and systematic analysis to develop profiles of favorable and unfavorable jurors. In our experience, only multiple levels of research can predict how an individual will approach the case, evaluate evidence, and render a verdict. Statistical profiling ensures that you’re in the best possible position to seat the best jury.

Jury Research Data and Focus Groups

Trial attorneys often pride themselves on their ability to communicate complex legal theories in a simple way. But when you’re living and breathing a case for many months, it is easy for your objectivity to become compromised. Focus groups and other jury research exercises can help fine tune your arguments and begin to identify some trends in jury profiling.

A mock trial or focus group typically involves the observation of small group deliberation, based on the presentation of testimony that closely approximates an actual trial. By analyzing what mock jurors find significant, meaningful or memorable about the case, we can develop early stage profiles about whether certain attitudes and experiences are likely to be pro-plaintiff or pro-defense and helps us to advise the trial team on the effectiveness of their argument and ways to improve.

Mock jury data can be gathered in various ways, including full trial simulations, shadow juries, focus groups, online mock juries and telephone surveys. At certain times, we favor some of these methods and/or combine two or more types of exercises in order to gain the fullest data set to prepare for a trial. It depends on the complexity and value of the case.

When gathering mock jury data, it is important to realize that the quality of the findings is wholly dependent on the quality of the methodology: Put simply, you’ll get better results if the research team is well-versed in the nature of advocacy, presentation, communication, psychology and small group behavior, and designs the study with these factors in mind.

Large-scale Juror Profiling

While traditional jury research data is extremely helpful, it is often based on a relatively small sample size, both in terms of the total number of participants and the number of focus groups. Sample size is a key determinant of how much weight to ascribe to research results. Generally, smaller sample size groups should be interpreted with caution since the group’s characteristics may have been the primary cause of the outcome; they are not predictive in the statistical sense. This is particularly important when evaluating damage awards or responsibility allocations, which are the least reliable types of data.

Because of these limitations, we recommend large-scale juror profiling studies. Massive community profiling allows us to validate the initial profiles developed through our jury research, and determine with statistical certainty what types of jurors are likely to favor the plaintiff versus the defense in your case.

Large-scale profiling is a multifaceted protocol. It starts with one or more large-scale community perception surveys, which we administer with the intent of uncovering community attitudes and biases to each party’s respective position in the case. Research consistently shows that pre-existing attitudes are more predictive of verdict behavior than the potential juror’s experiences; and experiences are significantly more predictive than demographics.

In other words, it is not enough to find out what experiences the potential jurors had, but also what they learned from these experiences. Essentially, we’re using big data about ordinary people, such as their social media activity, to develop a statistically reliable verdict-orientation model based on what motivates people to think the way they do.

The impressions we collect allow us to develop and gain a more nuanced understanding of the kinds of jurors who would be more receptive to the plaintiff’s position than they would be to the defense case. Correlated with mock jury data, this can help us narrow down potential voir dire questions to those which we know are reliable predictors of verdict orientation. The goal is to help the trial team effectively identify and deselect jurors who cannot and never will be persuaded.

Final Thoughts

“Almost every case has been won or lost when the jury is sworn,” legendary defense attorney Clarence Darrow once claimed. That may be an exaggeration, but getting even a small edge can turn the tables in a difficult case. Jury profiling can give you that edge — as long as it’s the right type of profiling. Piecemeal small-scale mock juries have less value than aggregated results gathered from multiple data points and deeper statistical analysis.

Just as you evaluate cases in a critical manner, evaluate the quality of the research service used with the same considered eye. Choosing a consultant who applies multiple layers of rigor to their analysis ensures the quality of your data and assigns a degree of much-needed confidence to the results you have obtained. It can make all the difference.

If you’re ready to learn more about Magna’s jury profiling services, contact MagnaLS today.