Over the years, many people have asked me what makes me qualified to work as a jury/trial consultant. I explain that I have a Ph.D. in social psychology, which is the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by other people and situations. Social thinking, social influence, and social behavior are studied by my colleagues and me, with the goal of understanding the ways in which individual and group behavior is influenced by others’ presence and behavior. In consideration of the fact that a jury is comprised of individual jurors, who must work together to make a decision, that is, a verdict, social psychology provides the best foundation of all possible areas of study for understanding jury behavior. Magnus Research Consultants was founded by David and me in 1993 and is based upon the principles of social psychology. Social psychologists have a strong commitment to the ethical treatment of research participants, whether they are college students who participate in professors’ experiments or mock jurors who provide valuable insights into high stakes litigation. As a social psychologist, I am duty bound to uphold the ethical requirements of the American Psychological Association, which includes not: subjecting mock jurors to undue stress, revealing their confidential responses to my clients, or providing my clients with their full names or contact information. Sometimes, my ethical constraints are not respected by my clients, who are attorneys, not members of the scientific community, but I tactfully explain that the ethical treatment of everyone who participates in a Magnus project is of utmost importance to me. The end goal of what I do on behalf of my clients, is of course, to help them win their case. This requires me to: (1) ensure we have a proper sample of jury eligible citizens from the trial venue to participate in our research; (2) design a survey that will provide the basis for preparing profiles of jurors for the trial; (3) ensure the research is not biased, in any way, in favor of my client (lest we obtain a false result); (4) analyze and interpret all data, both quantitative and qualitative, obtained from the research; (5) report the data to my client in a meaningful, jargon free, manner; (6) provide recommendations for trial, mediation, or arbitration strategy based on my analyses of the data; and (7) assist my clients in the courtroom in selecting jurors who will be most likely to favor our side of the case, while de-selecting those who are most likely to be unfavorable. I am aware of other professions, not to mention people who are not professional, by anyone’s definition, who are employed as jury consultants, but I am proud to have earned a degree that provides the best background for a career most people can only dream of having.
I have certainly learned a lot about social psychology, by osmosis and directly from Melissa, as well as in a graduate course, taken before I had any intent of working in the trial consulting world, that helped me more than I knew it would. It is interesting to explain the principles of psychological science to lawyers. Over time, more of them “get it” than ever. To explain, we have, at various times, had clients, or prospective clients, ask us to take shortcuts which would bias the mock jury research. Usually, this was suggested as a cost saving mechanism. But, such shortcuts could easily result in false results and it is hard enough to make sense of the data we get when doing things “correctly” than to introduce improper/biased variables. Melissa is a stickler for things, like clean juror recruits (as opposed to using people in a database or recruited from an ad), to yield a representative sample of participants. Convenience sampling, which is employed by some of our competitors, is clearly not allowed at Magnus. Clients entrust us to help them only on challenging cases. Using the expertise Melissa has, through education and experience, ensures a solid foundation for exploring decision makers’ thoughts and ultimately, helping clients achieve the best possible outcomes to their cases. The litigation tip of all of this discussion, for anyone considering hiring a trial consultant, is to vet the consultant carefully. Be sure to know what expertise the consultant really has. As our niche’ in the world has evolved, it has grown partially with consultants who have little true knowledge. A real trial consultant is not a “jury recruiter” or “facilitator,” but an expert on par, or more, with any expert hired on a case.