Alternative Venue Research

In a prior post which I initiated, I wrote about how not to do jury research. That post was prompted by a call from a prospective client who wanted to hire us, but wanted to specify every aspect of the research, but all of those approaches were wrong in our estimation. Specifically, he wanted the research done for this case in his, and our, home venue in SE Florida. But, the case was not being tried in SE Florida. It was in a large venue, 4 hours away on the central west coast of Florida – a very different place. He was insistent on this point and it was one of the reasons we declined the engagement – because doing research in the wrong venue, for the sake of convenience only, is one of many wrong ways to conduct jury research. There are many differences in people in different venues. Think about red and blue county maps during an election cycle. The news sources are different, the employer base is different. The people are not the same, and conducting research in an alternate venue is rarely appropriate. The words “rarely appropriate,” however, do indicate that there are times when alternate venue research is acceptable, appropriate and necessary. Under certain circumstances, using an alternate venue, matched to the largest degree possible to the trial venue, is necessary due to publicity or possible contamination of the jury pool (especially in small venues). This has also been an issue in some jurisdictions which have high numbers of similar cases; recently, there have been issues in high volume, high exposure, patent litigation in certain parts of Texas which have caused the courts to take precautions to ensure adequate venire members are available. Very high profile cases and/or clients may also warrant moving the research venue, and in some cases, the actual trial jury – but that’s another story. When alternate venue research is under consideration, care must be taken to ensure that the alternate venue provides as close a comparison to the actual venue for the aforementioned reasons. It is not done for the convenience of the parties, or, at least, it should not be!

There are valid reasons for conducting mock jury research in a venue other than the trial venue. As David pointed out, when the trial venue is in a sparsely populated area, it is sometimes risky to conduct jury research in the venue because: (1) there is a risk of “contaminating” the jury pool, meaning there is a high likelihood some of the mock jurors will be called for jury duty on the actual case; and (2) there is a risk of confidentiality breaches, because the mock jurors are often acquainted with one another and/or opposing trial counsel. In addition, when the case is a high publicity matter, involving, for example, a celebrity or other well known person, it is sometimes safer to conduct jury research outside the trial venue than to risk exposing the celebrity’s foibles in his/her hometown. Attorneys’ laziness, unwillingness to travel outside their home county, unwillingness to pay travel expenses, and other convenience related factors are not, however, valid reasons to conduct jury research in the wrong venue. I have been appalled, on numerous occasions, by attorneys’ demands that Magnus conduct research in the wrong venue because they “don’t feel like” driving across the state of Florida to the place where their trial will be held. I have even been told by a few attorneys that they want me to conduct their research in the wrong venue because there are no 4 or 5 star hotels in the trial venue where they can stay; or they need to be home in time for happy hour, their wife’s home cooking, or their child’s sporting activity. (No, I’m not making this up!) Needless to say, Magnus conducts all jury and fact finder research in the correct venue. We don’t bend to any client’s demands or whims if doing so compromises, in any way, our integrity, professionalism, or ethics.

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