I saw a post on a Facebook friend’s page that said “You don’t have to know the answer, you just have to know how to find the answer.” That prompted a number of thoughts. First is the issue of “the answer.” Sometimes there is not a single answer. Sure, to basic mathematical questions there may be one answer; 2+2=4 no matter how you slice it. But many questions, the hard ones, have multiple answers depending on the situation. There may be a series of good, better, or best answers. Thus, defining the answer being sought is step 1. The second thought I had in reading this post is how it applies to our “day job” as trial consultants. Countless times we have been called by lawyers who spell out their case and related questions, and then ask, “What do you think?”. Melissa and I are quick to let the caller know that what we think is not that important. What is important is to find out what representative decision makers (jurors, judges, arbitrators, mediators) will think about the case. That is the “You just have to know how to find the answer” part. We know how to find answers and the ways to do that are many – depending on the answer being sought. As frustrating as it is, we frequently have to explain that “it depends” when a potential client asks us for answers. Finding the answer depends on many things. These include the time available to investigate or research the question(s), the budget, and the degree of certainty desired. Sometimes we have an answer to those initial questions. Our opinion may be a part of the answer, but with any serious question, research and investigation must be a part of finding the answer. Litigation and life are not open book exams!
Many people, some of Magnus’ clients included, look for the “easy way out” of many situations. Often, there is an easy way out, for example, when a door is marked with an exit sign, or when a restaurant menu is placed in front of someone, or any one of the countless other situations we encounter in our daily lives. Sometimes, however, things are not cut and dried. In addition, there are multiple ways of answering certain questions. For example, Magnus has research methodologies that are specific to our company. (I know this because I designed all of our research protocols.) Magnus’ competitors, in a similar fashion, have their own proprietary ways of conducting jury and other fact finder research that answer their clients’ questions. There is not one “right way” to design research to address clients’ concerns about their cases. As long as the research is conducted with appropriate social science guidelines and ethical mandates are followed, whether to do a focus group, as opposed to a mock trial, is largely a matter of preference. When clients ask me to provide an off the cuff answer to a complex question about jury behavior, human decision making, or if they will win their case, I ask them to step back and consider that what they are asking me to do cannot be done with any degree of certainty. And, as to David’s point about my role in providing an opinion about the strengths and weaknesses in the case, I wholeheartedly agree that it is not my opinion that counts. Rather, it is my interpretation of other people’s opinion, namely, the people who will decide the case as members of a jury or an arbitration panel, that matters. Sometimes, the answers are more difficult to provide than the questions appear when someone is trying to search for a “quick fix” to a complicated problem.
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