A long time ago, when I first began my career as a jury/trial consultant, my very tough minded boss told me something that has always resonated with me as I have pursued my long career. He said, “The clients know you/we are smart, after all, we all have Ph. D.s, but what you/we must always prove to them is how very clever you/we are.” Being smart, but acting clever, is something that doesn’t come easily to some people, but it is this distinction that often sets apart those of us who are successful at what we do from others who are less willing or able to reveal their cleverness to other people, most important, clients. Our clients have numerous choices of whom to hire for help; the field of jury/trial consultation has grown exponentially over the decades I have been working. Something must be unique about the person(s) who provide the services to the clients. It can be a unique way of looking at the world; the ability to analyze and interpret conflicting data (and the understanding that “data” is a plural word!); or a take charge personality that communicates a willingness to help the client in ways no one else can help. If I, as a highly intelligent, highly educated person, cannot do and say clever things that communicate “I know something you don’t know” to my clients, then there is no reason they should retain my company and me instead of all of the other people who would love to perform their consulting work. In the words of the late owner of a famous steak house chain, “it is the sizzle that makes the steak.”
Being clever as a trial consultant requires the ability to view the case issues from perspectives beyond those of the clients. Time and time again clients tell us they had never thought of their cases in the ways we helped them see the case. These clever insights come from being attuned to both the reactions of the fact finders, which are usually mock jurors, as well as to knowledge and experience from other cases with other clients. And, very importantly, by being tuned into the bigger picture. One way to do this is be well read, both in professional journals, but also in the news of the day. Being aware of how our clients’ cases may be impacted by outside forces or other events helps put the instant case in perspective. Lawyers usually come to trial consultants with plenty of experience and legal expertise; sometimes the trial teams are huge. But, as probably happens in non legal work also, the people closest to the issue get tunnel vision. As consultants we use data and other expertise to help provide a broader perspective. Over the years we have interviewed and sometimes hired very intelligent, well educated people, who perhaps had their own tunnel vision – they were too academically oriented. So, the key to success is to be clever, and smart. And, show it. Melissa ends talking about sizzle, and I agree, but I will add there must be substance behind that sizzle. Thus, the caveat, there are, unfortunately those who only sell the sizzle, without having the substance – they are to be avoided.