A client, who had never observed a Magnus mock trial, asked the question which is the title of this post during a recent mock trial. The “they” is the mock jurors. The “it” is the case. The answer is YES! The rest of the story is that, despite the mock jurors knowing they are only to be present for a limited period of time, they “get into it.” They are told they are discussing an actual, active, case (for ethical reasons, we tell them the truth). Magnus’ jurors are randomly recruited for our mock juries and focus groups; they do not know each other. They are screened to eliminate those who would be obvious challenges for cause at the actual trial. When it comes time to deliberate, their personalities come out. They engage with each other in the ways I am sure they do in every interpersonal encounter they have in life. They are themselves, and inevitably, some will agree with each other and some will not. They negotiate, they bargain, they stick to their positions (resulting in non-unanimous verdicts) and often, they compromise. Their deliberations usually involve surprisingly heated discussions. Sometimes, the discussions are hotter than one might imagine; voices get loud and interpersonal attacks occur. Though the subject matter may seem mundane (some cases are more dramatic than others), the opinionated back and forth discussions always occur. It is perhaps an artifact of conducting mock jury research that this occurs because mock juries are only held on contested cases, not “slam dunks.” We don’t get hired if the facts are one sided. More than once we’ve found it necessary to intervene to cool down the participants to avoid the situation escalating to physical confrontations. The bottom line answer to the recent client’s question is ABSOLUTELY. He saw it himself, and while surprised, he was glad to see it. This validated the research process in a way he never imagined.
It is difficult for new clients to understand the seriousness with which most of Magnus’ mock jurors conduct themselves during mock jury research. Everyone who attends a mock jury, of course, knows they are part of a research exercise, thus, the word “mock” precedes the word “jury.” Not only do the attorneys recognize we are conducting social science research on their case, but the mock jurors are also aware their participation is research based and thus, their decisions are not binding like they would be if they served on an actual jury. Nonetheless, as David pointed out, almost everyone whom I have observed in over 30 years of conducting mock jury research has taken their role seriously. (The few who have not, including those who are impaired with alcohol or drugs, or who disrupt the research project in some way, are paid for their time and dismissed as soon as they cause a problem.) All of the cases on which I have ever consulted are high stakes, involving issues of interest to most people, and they are highly disputed by the people on opposite sides of the lawsuit. Magnus has worked on numerous high profile cases about which almost all of the mock jurors are aware prior to their participation (due to media accounts of the events that led to the lawsuit). In addition, there are certain cases that may seem rather mundane, such as eminent domain (condemnation) cases, but these cases are often the source of considerable debate among the mock jurors. (For example, eminent domain cases usually involve a governmental entity’s taking of privately owned land, something about which many people have strong opinions.) Yes, the mock jurors are getting paid, very well, to attend our research programs. Yes, they are getting a nice meal at some time during our time together. Yes, the places where we work are nice, even luxurious, and it’s fun for people to get dressed up to attend our event. But, overall, the mock jurors know they are there to do a job on a case that, to the people involved, represents one of the most important and costly disagreements in their life. On the occasions when a mock juror comments, “This is hard!,” I respond, “Yes, it is. If it were easy, we wouldn’t need your help.” Thank you to the thousands of mock jurors who have helped me do my job since 1989 by taking your job seriously! I couldn’t do my job without you!