Various professions have identity problems. For example, when a “speech therapist” conducted a cognitive evaluation of my mom’s dementia, I had trouble understanding the connection. Even professions with seemingly solid identities, such as lawyers or doctors, are not precisely defined as to their specialty. For example, is the doctor a brain surgeon, general practitioner, or a podiatrist? Lawyers may be trial lawyers or litigators, like our clients, or they may specialize in tax, real estate, or elder law. (Elder law attorneys have another identity problem in that their clients are often not old – that focus is narrower than their speciality name describes.) But, as trial consultants, or jury consultants, we have a particular identity problem. This post is the first of 3 wherein I will describe the confusion. As a trial consultant, or jury consultant, we work with attorneys and their clients to evaluate their case, to evaluate witnesses, to help with jury selection, and to help with trial exhibits and presentations, and more. The most general “name” for this profession is “trial” consultant, but “jury consultant” is equally common. The only professional organization overseeing the field is the American Society of Trial Consultants, so “trial consultant” usually wins out. But, as it turns out, people may call themselves a trial consultant but they only provide trial presentation services, ignoring the broadest description of the field. And, as has been discussed in other blogs, and surely more to follow, the qualifications of trial or jury consultants varies tremendously. When one hires a trial consultant, the consultant may not have relevant expertise, training, or education. Calling oneself a jury or trial consultant can be as simple as getting a business card made. The trouble is, how does the consumer of those services discriminate among consultants? Again, this is beyond the scope of this post, but the initial issue is to understand that the terms trial consultant, and jury consultant, are synonymous – as a starting position. Hiring a trial consultant requires getting beyond these terms and into specifics of the scope of services offered, as well as qualifications of the consultants.
When I am asked my occupation, I reply, “I am a social psychologist who helps attorneys prepare their cases for trial, arbitration, and mediation.” I once told one of my cousins, who lives in a rural part of Florida, that I am a “jury consultant” and she remarked how wonderful it must be to work with nice “jewelry.” That was, perhaps, the last time I used the expression, “jury consultant” in a sentence when speaking with someone who is not an attorney! But, more on point for David’s post, many trial/jury consultants are not psychologists; in fact, many of Magnus’ competitors have little or no education, training, or qualifications whatsoever. As a result, the generic terms, trial consultant, and jury consultant, are used to categorize people from a variety of backgrounds who work with trial lawyers and litigators to improve their chances of obtaining a favorable litigation outcome for their clients. Because of the so called identity crisis within the field of trial and jury consulting, it is increasingly difficult for attorneys and their clients, such as insurance companies, to distinguish among all of the people and corporations calling themselves trial/jury consultants. In addition, because a considerable amount of our work does not involve juries or trials, the narrow focus of the name used by most people in our industry is limiting, not to mention confusing. Perhaps a better term to describe the type of work we do is “litigation consultant” or, for those of us who are psychologists, “litigation psychologist.” Until someone other than I decides to fight for a name change in the field in which Magnus operates its business, we will continue to explain our occupation in the best ways we can.