The TV character Dr. Bull is proving interesting in that he has introduced some terminology that may be unfamiliar to attorneys and the general public. Dr. Bull references “Trial Science” which may lead some to wonder is there any science to a trial. Many trials involve forensic science, experts, engineers, and more, but the concept of Trial Science addresses the science of evaluating and forecasting trial outcomes. This is the domain of trial consultants, also called jury consultants, or even litigation consultants. While Dr. Bull is a fictional trial consultant, we at Magnus are the real thing. Trial consulting is derived from social science, including social psychology, research psychology, statistics, and more. And, yes, there is a science to it when it is practiced by scientists. Unfortunately, not all so called trial consultants are trained in behavioral sciences, so consumers of these services must be aware. But, more than some clients and prospective clients realize, there is a science, and perhaps an art, to the work of trial consultants. The science includes proper research design. It includes the avoidance of bias, it includes proper data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, and the reporting of the findings in a way that is consistent with an objective approach. The degree of scientific certainty varies depending on the research method utilized and the scope of the research. But, in many cases, sophisticated statistical analyses are conducted by us, as trial consultants, allowing our attorney clients to achieve optimal litigation outcomes for their clients. Part of our approach at Magnus is not to oversell the science, but rather, to use the science to develop recommendations and strategies that our clients can employ without being bogged down in the minutia of science. We have to translate the findings into useful reports. A “real” trial consultant should be a behavioral scientist because the work we do has serious consequences for our clients and our clients’ clients. The science is the foundation, and it must be solid.
My first job as a social psychologist working in the world of law was at a company called Litigation Sciences, Inc. LSI, as it was commonly referred to, was one of the first companies that worked for attorneys involved in high stakes litigation. LSI was founded in the late 1970s, meaning the kind of work Magnus does has been around for a long time. Nonetheless, the average person has no idea what a litigation, trial, or jury consultant (these terms are interchangeable) does on a day to day basis. I once told one of my cousins what I did for a living and she remarked, “Well, that sure would be nice working with fancy jewelry all day.” It seems that “jewelry” was far more familiar to her than “jury”! Nowadays, I still find that my work world is small, with many people regaling me with their boring jury duty experiences in an attempt to relate to what I do for a living. But, thanks to the wonderful thing called television, there is now a cute little drama that professes to be about jury consultants. Expressions such as “trial science” are used on this TV program as if they are something new and special when, in reality, trial science has been around for almost 40 years. I am not faulting the general public for its lack of awareness about my niche employment as a jury/trial/litigation consultant, but there is nothing on this new TV show that is unique, special, or even cool, in my view. Trial science has been around for a long time and, although TV has raised awareness of the role of social scientists in the courtroom and beyond, it is not going to have any impact whatsoever on the work I do on behalf of my clients. Science is science; social psychology is social psychology, and TV is, well, TV.
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