What is a Mock Jury/Focus Group?

Every lawyer who has ever tried a serious case has used a focus group. That focus group might have been a jury of one and compromised of the lawyer’s spouse or a family member or friend, but we all know someone was cajoled into listening to us to test the perception of what we were trying to present at the real upcoming trial.

I once paid a lot of money to a trial psychologist to conduct a focus group. The psychologist prepared a narrative explanation of the facts and law and then presented the narrative along with a “verdict form” to forty people chosen to match as closely as possible in age and socio-economic status the anticipated jury pool for the case on which we were working. This particular case called for money damages. To assist in evaluating the damages, of the forty verdict forms, the psychologist discarded the two highest and the two lowest. I was surprised by the high amount of the average, which was presented to the defense attorney in written form and helped to settle the case. But what surprised me more and has continued to surprise me with every mock jury since, were the questions, observations or suggestions made by the focus group participants. The input is invaluable. Focus groups, mock jurors and actual jurors usually do not take the same path to resolve a case as the attorneys think they will.

A mock jury was consulted in a recent trial regarding a drunk trucker. We were of the opinion before questioning the mock jurors that anyone who worked in the trucking industry would not be a good juror for us. Just the opposite proved to be true. People who worked for the trucking companies knew the rules regarding trucking compliance and supervision. The were incensed the drunk trucker was on the road in the first place, knew he reflected badly on their occupation and would have awarded damages higher than other potential jurors that, before the mock jury experience, we wrongly assumed to be the ones we wanted. Focus groups and mock juries make you prepare; they make you practice the presentation of the case. Focus groups are indispensable. Costs permitting, mock juries are invaluable.

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