By Melissa M. Gomez
Special to the Legal
In one of the highlight moments as a jury consultant, one of my clients, with whom I was giving a CLE, said to the crowd, “Jury consultants like Melissa can give us a different perspective on the case. She essentially lets us know if we have a good case or if we are just absorbed in our own BS.” Regardless of the fact that I had to chuckle at this particular client’s description of my job, he made a good and important point that I think all attorneys should consider when taking their case to trial.
The fact of the matter is that after years of being involved in a case, you are no longer outside of it. Instead, by the time a case makes it to trial, the team has typically been so involved in the nuts and bolts and minute details of the legal and factual issues that it can get stuck inside its own perspective. It can be extremely difficult to step back outside and understand what someone may perceive viewing the case for the first time and from a 10,000-foot view. Extremely difficult, but critical if you are to present your case in front of a jury.
Does this mean you need a jury consultant for every single case you have going to trial? No, not at all. What it does mean, though, is that you should get some sort of outside perspective -- whatever form that may take.
Do I recommend using a jury consultant? When it is warranted, sure I do. Jury consultants are trained to provide an unbiased perspective (unlike your mother or spouse, who wants to encourage you … usually). The perspective of a good jury consultant is focused on people who do not know the law; who may not be those who you, as a lawyer, encounter in your day-to-day life, but who would be the ones showing up to the courtroom on the day of your jury selection.
The best outside perspective, of course, is from potential jurors themselves. To get this viewpoint, we conduct mock trials or focus groups in which you present the case to a representative sample of eligible jurors. In the right case, when there is a lot at stake, the perspective from members of your venue’s community can be extremely valuable and eye-opening. There is no better way to take a step outside of yourself than to hear a group of people discussing their opinions of your case and your arguments.
In essence, finding a way to turn your vantage point of your case from inside to outside could very well be the difference between making a winning argument and … being “absorbed in your own BS” (his words, not mine).
Melissa M. Gomez is a jury consultant and owner of MMG Jury Consulting. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Her experience includes work on hundreds of jury trials in Philadelphia and across the country, with a focus on the psychology of juror learning, behavior and decision-making. If you have questions regarding jury psychology that you would like to see addressed in this blog, contact Gomez at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-292-7956.