O.J. Simpson’s Contribution to Trial Consulting

The topic of O.J. Simpson came up recently in a discussion I recently had about the world of trial consulting. The murder of O.J.’s former wife, and the subsequent trial, was one of the first televised celebrity mega trials. For better, or worse, almost everyone was aware of the accusations against O.J. in that case. The impact on the practice of law in America was tremendous. Millions of people followed every minute of the trial, heard every ruling by Judge Ito, and every argument by the prosecuting attorney, Marcia Clark (who subsequently wrote a book) and the defense lawyers (Johnny Cochran, whose law firm boomed after the case and Robert Kardashian, the patriarch of “the Kardashians”!) The wonderfully simplistic theme of “if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” created expectations that such drama would be a part of all cases. It isn’t. Yet, many factors about these tragic murders, the subsequent chase, and the trial have become part of the legal Zeitgeist. Jurors’ expectations were forever changed. Some of these expectations made life, or rather, work, more challenging for attorneys litigating cases. But, one thing became easier in the litigation world, at least for us; more than ever before, the use of trial consultants for mock trials and jury selection came to be known among the general public. By the time of the O.J. trial, many lawyers understood and appreciated the use of trial consultants for these purposes. We still encounter attorneys who are unfamiliar with, or in experienced in, the use of trial consultants and mock trials. But, at the time of the O.J. case, to the general public, trial consultants were not well known. This created a challenge sometimes when recruiting mock jurors and conducting mock trials. Those being recruited for mock trials often responded with “Huh,what are you talking about?” And, the suspicions still remained when they arrived at a facility to report for mock trial duty. More than once, in small towns, a police officer or a Sheriff’s deputy showed up to make sure we were legitimate. Thanks, in part to O.J., we haven’t seen the cops at a mock trial in a long time!

O. J. Simpson has been vilified since the time he was accused of murder. David’s and my post is not intended as praise for O. J.; rather, it is written as an example of how one event, even a tragic one, can change other things which, at first glance, appear unrelated. I have no positive regard for O. J. Simpson, however, I certainly do not miss the pre-O. J. days in the world of trial consulting when the local sheriff of whatever small town I happened to be working in came to the hotel or other facility where we were conducting mock jury research to find out what business we had in “his town.” Having had this experience on more than one occasion, I can tell our readers it is not particularly pleasant. The reason local law enforcement used to check up on Magnus, as well as my former employers, was that a concerned citizen or, sometimes, several concerned citizens called the local constable after being contacted by our jury recruiter. As hard as it is to believe, way back then, few people had ever heard of a “focus group,” “mock trial,” “jury simulation,” or other synonyms for the work we do. The typical responses to being asked, via telephone, by a stranger calling from out of town, to come to a local meeting place on a certain day and at a certain time, was “Say what?”; “What are you asking me to do?”; “Are you saying you want me to come to the Holiday Inn two weeks from now?; etc. One of the small town sheriffs who came to check us out told me several people called his office to see if we were bounty hunters conducting a sting operation, to round up wanted criminals in town! Since the O. J. Simpson trial, in 1994, we have rarely encountered any potential mock juror who didn’t know the meaning of “mock trial.” In addition, we have never, since then, had the local sheriff or police chief show up to investigate what we were doing. It is interesting to me how one thing can, and does, impact others in many unintended ways.

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