Over time, the jury trial has evolved. Although the concept of a judgment made by one’s peers remains the same, attorneys have had to change their legal strategies in order to account for increasingly sophisticated jurors with evolving expectations.
This sophistication arose out of a growing awareness of the legal processes and terminology. In addition, there’s a perception among legal counsel that jurors expect different kinds of evidence as the result of television shows that glamorize forensics.
Although the so-called “CSI effect” has not been conclusively proven, it’s almost certain jurors are more skeptical and analytical when it comes to evidence than ever before. Access to the internet has made everyone an amateur detective and has placed greater pressure on lawyers to make their client’s case.
For trial attorneys, predicting juror behavior has never been more important. They face a situation where members of the jury may question legal proceedings as much as evidence; they won’t simply accept whatever the person doing the cross-examination has to say. Jury research before a trial is essential to structure legal arguments and case narrative that speaks to this increasingly informed population.
Why Jurors Are Getting More Sophisticated
Several factors have contributed to increased juror sophistication. The advent of the internet has not only allowed everyday people to search for case information and learn about legal proceedings, but social media has made the law a regular news topic. Jurors hear about arguments, witness testimony and evidence in notorious trials before a verdict is handed down.
While jurors from a few decades ago would rely only on a judge to explain legal terms and the necessary steps to make a judgment, today’s jurors are one step ahead. Many believe they know the difference, for example, between conclusive and circumstantial evidence, an indictment and a conviction, civil and criminal. Even if their legal knowledge is imprecise at best, what’s important for counsel is that jurors believe they know what these terms mean and how they affect their decision.
Further, in years past, it was expected that jurors should have little to no information about the case or its major players in order to become part of a jury. However, because of the vast amount of information available online, finding those individuals who are also qualified to serve on a jury is increasingly difficult. The task for attorneys, therefore, is to predict juror sensibilities and develop case themes that speaks to those predispositions.
Tools like Magna’s Jury Scout are increasingly popular among lawyers who want to gather as much evidence as possible about how a juror might view their client’s case during voir dire. Social media posts offer evidence of political views and even an early opinion about the legal case they may be called upon to settle.
How Juror Focus Groups Can Help You
Mock Juror focus groups are an important way to predict how a group of individuals, not just individual jurors, will react to your case evidence. Focus groups can narrow in on a specific legal question, such as causation in a tort proceeding. That way, you know how to structure an essential argument that you may spend months preparing and several days delivering in a high-stakes trial.
In addition to helping you to evaluation the effective delivery of certain pieces of evidence, focus groups let you see how jurors respond to your overall presentation. Graphics, electronic screens and other tools you use to make an essential point may be lost on jurors even though they make perfect sense to you and your legal colleagues.
Importantly, for jurors accustomed to understanding trials as they see them on television — with the background and narrative essential to flesh out the story — juror focus groups help you to hone your storytelling. In a trial, it’s not enough to drag out witness after witness and exhibit after exhibit; it’s crucial that you encapsulate this information into a package that jurors will find engaging, relatable and understandable. You may also have to break through a layer of cynicism brought on by years of amateur legal research and dramatic television-watching.
Through a focus group, you not learn only whether jury members will accept your argument, you also gain insight into their reasoning and analysis. This way, you can predict how your real-life jurors, who are from the same venue as the members of your focus group, may react to any part of your trial.
Jury deliberations are an essential part of the American justice system. It’s a process trusted for both civil litigation, where big money is at stake, and criminal trials, where an individual’s freedom may be on the line. Because in some cases a single juror can decide the ultimate result, lawyers have increasingly spent time to prepare their cases in front of focus groups. Knowing ahead of time who might be judging their cases, through tools like focus groups or online focus groups like Jury Confirm, makes it a safer bet they may win the case for their client.