As an attorney, you know trials are unpredictable. Even with intensive preparation and an abundance of evidence, arguments are often undercut by jurors, whose perception of testimony and risk cannot always be anticipated. Any discrepancy—in presentation or the tone of an expert’s insight—could sway the outcome of a case, forcing experienced counsel into an unexpectedly difficult position.
However, you do not have to accept uncertainty. The Law Office of Matthew A. Lathrop, PC, LLO, provides focus group resources to practices nationwide. By engaging with ordinary people in simulated trials, you could seize a critical opportunity to understand and amend issues that would otherwise only arise in court.
Using Focus Groups to Inform Your Legal Strategy
Almost every lawyer educated in the United States has some experience with mock trials, though few appreciate their potential after passing the bar and moving into private practice. However, focus groups—most often associated with product development and marketing campaigns—can also help inform legal strategy in a surprising number of ways. They can, for instance, assist attorneys in reconceptualizing a claim and altering arguments to accommodate for subtle factors that might not seem relevant until after the trial has concluded.
Although every case is different, a focus group could help you:
Understand the Jury Mindset
Lawyers often rely on some combination of education and experience to predict how juries perceive a case and react to specific strategies. However, an attorney’s perception does not always reflect the mindset of jurors, especially those selected from different backgrounds. Focus groups provide a chance to understand how legal arguments are interpreted by laypeople, who may be more receptive to theory and doctrine that is phrased in a way they find relatable.
Uncover Unspoken Biases
Focus groups can provide valuable insight in forming questions for voir dire, especially when participants are selected from groups representative of a potential jury pool. Asking and experimenting with different types of questions can assist in identifying highly localized biases that could—and should—disqualify jurors from sitting on a particular case.
Explore Potential Problems in Your Case
Attorneys may spend a significant amount of time speaking with an individual client or at least familiarizing themselves with the facts of their claim. However, even if your understanding of a case has led you to reach a particular conclusion, there is no guarantee that jurors will concur.
A focus group could help you:
- Assess the efficacy of an expert’s testimony
- Evaluate what makes a jury react favorably, or unfavorably, to case presentation
- Decide whether to settle a claim or proceed to trial
Additionally, any information gained through mock trials can be used to refine questions in voir dire.
Present and Refine Compelling Arguments
More often than not, jurors respond best to attorneys and experts who speak in a language they understand. Interacting with focus group members can reveal not only adverse biases but also preferences—for how you move your body, speak, and express yourself with words.
Resolve Weaknesses Before They Arise
Laypeople do not always interpret legal theory and doctrine in a way that makes sense to experienced attorneys. While you might find specific evidence compelling, jurors may reject factual elements as unconvincing or irrelevant. Similarly, the details your client believes are critical to their claim may have little bearing on a jury’s perception.
In contrast, a focus group can also lend to a better appreciation of your case’s strengths. If participants respond better than expected to an argument or expert presentation in a mock trial, these details can be emphasized and made to serve as the basis of a more efficient strategy.