Making Lemonade Out of Lemons: Jury Research in the Era of COVID
By Michelle M. Pena, Ph.D.
The COVID-19 pandemic has become the world’s largest work-from-home experiment with millions of people being forced to work remotely and adapting to a more digital personal and professional lifestyle.
At first, adapting to online methods may feel daunting, intimidating, and in the world of mock trials and focus groups (a world where jurors are grouped together to deliberate), nearly impossible. However, many of the fears related to converting pretrial jury research to an online format are needless.
In fact, online mock trials have several benefits over in-person mock trials that may have you considering them when you come back into the office (whenever that may be).
Benefits of Online Mock Trials
- Larger Sample Sizes
During in-person mock trials, attorneys are asked to put on their case presentations for a group of a maximum of 54 mock jurors in one day. However, if a larger sample is desired (for more reliable and predictive case results), attorneys are required to give their presentations again on a different day. Due to the live nature of these case presentations, there will always be differences between an attorney’s Day 1 and Day 2 presentations, making it statistically unreliable to pool the data collected for each session. For example, what if during Day 2, the attorney presenting the Plaintiff’s case mistakenly skips over an important demonstrative, explains a piece of evidence differently, or narratives in a distinctive chronological sequence? Inconsistencies between an attorney’s Day 1 and Day 2 presentation can have significant effects on how jurors perceive case facts and their decision-making process. As such, merging data from different mock trial sessions can be extremely unreliable and, thus, misleading.
With online mock trials, attorneys pre-record their case presentations, which are then played to mock jurors via an online screen share feature. Thus, identical online mock trial sessions for the same project can be conducted across multiple days, providing consultants the opportunity to collect data that can be merged, resulting in a larger sample size. Larger sample sizes result in more reliable and predictive case results and allow for critical statistical analyses, like juror profiling, to be conducted.
- Simplified Research Methods and Instantaneous Data Collection
One of the greatest advantages of online mock trials is the ability to streamline research methods and procedures, speeding up data collection and analyses. Long gone are the days (at least for the near future) of scanning paper questionnaires and manually fixing data due to poorly erased juror responses. Instead of hand-written (and sometimes illegible) responses, jurors participating in online mock trials are asked to type their responses into digitally sent questionnaires, which are automatically collected and coded as soon as the questionnaire is submitted.
At Focus Litigation Consulting, we use an online survey system that allows us to download juror responses and data in seconds. With a click of a button we can instantly download the data collected and run quick analyses, like frequencies and percentages, to know where jurors stand in real time. These “live” results allow us to provide the trial team with immediate feedback throughout the mock trial.
- More Cost Effective
Online mock trials require zero travel for everyone involved. Mock jurors, trial teams, and consultants can all participate from the comfort of their own homes/offices. Thus, there are absolutely no travel expenses incurred as there is no need to fly consultants or members of the trial team to the venue.
More importantly, there are no costs associated with research facility rentals (e.g., room rental costs, video recording fees, catering costs) since virtual mock trials only require participants to sign into an online meeting portal using their personal computer. Fortunately, advancements in technology and web conferencing systems have fostered the perfect environment to host online mock trials. Video case presentations can be shared, online questionnaires and exhibit files can be securely sent, and deliberations can be video recorded across different breakout rooms.
- Increased Juror Willingness to Participate
During recruitment for in-person mock trials, we often find that mock jurors are deterred from participating because of transportation issues (e.g., living far from the facility where the research is taking place, public transportation not being easily accessible). Transportation problems are non-existent with online mock trials where jurors participate without ever having to leave their home. As such, online mock trials can reach populations that are normally considered hard-to-reach for in-person mock trials.
Additionally, based on our personal experience conducting online mock trials, jurors are more willing to participate during deliberations. We have received feedback from mock jurors stating that deliberating online is “less intimidating” than deliberating in-person and jurors feel more comfortable defending their position when behind a screen. The shy and quiet, yet insightful, juror who may feel too intimated to speak up in a group of people during deliberations may feel more comfortable giving their input when speaking through a screen. We have also found that with a short online tutorial and simple deliberation rules, jurors become more respectful towards one another during online deliberations. That is, jurors interrupt one another less frequently, which results in better and more complete data collection.
Online mock trials do not come without its hardships, but in difficult times like these, it is critical to focus on what can be done and not on what cannot be done – particularly when courts across the country are considering incorporating online components into jury trials for the indefinite future. This is a time to use our creativity and expand our knowledge to continue providing meaningful insight to your case. Just because some things have been put on hold, does not mean your trial prep should be too.