When Mark Calzaretta watches a jury, hearing evidence in a high-stakes lawsuit, it isn’t necessarily an impartial panel of citizen peers he sees. Rather, Calzaretta sees 10 human beings with emotional biases that, if studied diligently, can help lawyers predict, with startling accuracy, the outcome of a case, often before it is tried.
Calzaretta is a founding member of Magna Legal Services, a Center City firm that specializes in modeling juror behavior for lawyers who want to squeeze every advantage out of their arguments. Though widely used, it’s a technique that challenges basic assumptions about the process in a civil trial, that verdicts result from an impartial weighing of facts, and that emotions and personal biographies of jurors have less impact. Instead, it is those traits and emotions that determine the outcome, Calzaretta says, and he and his colleagues have built a successful business turning them to clients’ advantage.
Before a case even goes to trial, Calzaretta and his team will scour social media sites to prepare personality profiles of each juror and the alternates. They will have tested arguments for both sides on focus groups outfitted with remotes recording their responses. When the focus groups deliberate, lawyers and consultants observe the give and take through one-way glass to understand how their arguments were received.
Once a case goes to trial, Calzaretta and his team often assemble a shadow jury that, based on personality profiles of actual jurors, matches as closely as possible those sitting in judgement. These shadow jurors attend the trial and at the end of each day are debriefed to find out what arguments worked for their side and which arguments fell flat.
Throughout the trial, strategy and tactics are continually tweaked based on shadow jurors’ responses. “The more you know about the jury, the better you can craft your story and testimony to hit home with them,” says Calzaretta. “We are trying to figure out what story sells to the masses. That is really the goal.”
Such services don’t come cheap. Running a shadow jury costs about $50,000 a week, and clients can spend several million dollars in high-stakes litigation for the full array of jury modeling services. But Calzaretta maintains that his shadow juries have never failed to predict a trial’s outcome accurately. “I’ve always had them line up,” he said of shadow jury panels and actual juries.