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When is an Online Mock Trial or Focus Group Right for My Case?

(Part 1 of a 2 Part Series)

The recent trend and attraction of online jury research are difficult to resist for anyone considering conducting jury research. What’s not to like about online research? It’s easy to implement; it’s much cheaper than traditional jury research and, if time is short, it’s quicker to execute. For clients who are on a budget, this method of research is quite attractive. However, anyone claiming that you can use this method to receive the same information as traditional research but cheaper should be regarded with skepticism, as they are steering you in the wrong direction. In this two-part series, we will review the advantages and disadvantages of using online research to gather data for your case, and discuss certain test designs where its use is more appropriate than others.


When is Online Jury Research Appropriate?

While there are a number of important factors to consider when designing a research exercise, the most important question to ask is, “What are the goals of the research?” – that is, “What is it that I want to learn?” For instance, if your goal is to test the range of, and rationale for, damages in an effort to learn the value of your case, your best option is a verdict-driven Deliberation Group or Mock Trial format that includes significant time dedicated to jury deliberations. Any other model (e.g., traditional Focus Group, online research) lacks the significant influence of group dynamics, such that jurors’ damages discussion, and ranges will be unreliable. Because of the focus on jury deliberations inherent in a verdict-driven model, and hence the effects of group dynamics, conducting such a research project online poses several methodological challenges.

However, if your goal is a broad approach to learning jurors’ reactions to the case facts, themes and arguments in an inductive format, then looking to an online jury research approach may be appropriate.

Benefits of Online Jury Research

  • Geared toward Inductive Investigations: Online jury research is best used during focus group research, when the research goals center on the inductive investigation of jurors’ evaluations of the evidence in a non-verdict driven test (a.k.a., a mock trial).  In this type of research, the goal is to “cast a wide net” and learn about a broad range of potential juror responses.
      • Gathering initial and specific feedback.  If the research goals are to discern what jurors think about certain key issues in a case, or to help ascertain jurors’ comprehension, confusion and responses to initial themes and strategies, then online research is one way to gain this very specific feedback.
      • Obtaining immediate feedback within a short timeframe.  Online jury research also provides accelerated findings for clients.  When global feedback (i.e., this theme worked, that one didn’t) is needed more quickly versus a full analysis, online research is a solution that can provide real-time results.
  • Cost-Effective: Cost-effectiveness is frequently cited as the most attractive feature of online research.  This savings is, in a large part, due to the fact that online research eliminates the need to travel or to rent a hotel or market research facility for the exercise.  Additionally, because jurors are able to participate in the research from their own homes, the monetary incentive provided to jurors for their participation is much lower than for traditional research.
  • Quick to Implement: When trial is around the corner, and there isn’t time to plan and implement traditional jury research, online research is a good alternative.  The key is to remember to keep your goals focused on the types of data an online focus group can reliably provide.

In Part II of our series , we will discuss the disadvantages of online jury research that can significantly limit the generalizability of the results and therefore impact the strategic decisions facing a trial team (e.g., settlement, etc.).


By: John Wilinski, M.A. – Consultant

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