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The Science Behind Creating a Mock Trial Jury Panel

It is one of the most common questions we get asked before deliberations during a Mock Trial or Focus Group: “How do you divide the juries for deliberations?”  There are many ways we could do it (Draw names out of a hat?  Draw numbers from a bingo cage?), but there is definitely a way that we should do it in order to collect the best feedback for your research goals.  In this article, we explain the philosophy behind our methods for dividing the jurors into smaller jury panels for purposes of deliberations based on your goals[1].


Devising the Composition and Size of the Jury Panel

One of the fundamentals of pre-trial research is to assemble a panel of citizens who, as closely as possible, resemble an actual panel of jurors that would be called for trial in the subject jurisdiction. Litigation Insights accomplishes this by working closely with local counsel to identify juror specifications that fit a specific demographic profile. Once the large group arrives the morning of the exercise and completes the required paperwork, our staff once again reviews the demographics to ensure we have a representative sample and make any dismissals that are necessary to meet the targeted demographic.

Now that we have met our goal in recruiting and convening this representative group of jurors, our 20-plus years of litigation consulting experience has taught us that smaller, more intimate groups of 8, 10 or 12 jurors encourage and promote participation/discussions and provide a better experience for both the juror and those receiving the feedback.

Why Composition of the Mock Trial Panels Matters Based on your Research Goals

While we try to achieve an equal number of men and women, a representative sample of age, ethnicity, education and a balance of occupations (blue collar vs. white collar, self-employed, retired, etc.) to ensure a mix of jurors representative of the jurisdiction, we ultimately divide the mock jury panels into two or three groups based on the goals for the project (i.e., “What is it we want to learn?”). With that in mind, here are three popular methods to divide the jurors so clients can gain the most valuable information possible.

  • Encourage Discussion. Probably the most widely used method focuses on the goal of learning which arguments are persuasive and which ones are not. One of best ways to ensure a jury panel discusses the issues is to divide the groups such that the plaintiff and defense jurors are evenly distributed within and across groups as best as possible. We do this by focusing on jurors’ final case leaning. Ideally, each group will have a few plaintiff supporters, a few defense supporters and a few people who are undecided. This way, we get a glimpse into the group dynamic to see how decisions are made and what arguments jurors use to persuade those who don’t agree with them.

One caveat: it is important to understand that, when evenly dividing the jurors to encourage discussion, groups are not designed to come to a unanimous decision, but in fact, just the opposite. They are designed to ensure a discussion occurs that tests the strengths of the defense case and how those strengths play against the opposition’s arguments. This is how we learn our case vulnerabilities and how to best shore them up going forward.

  • Identify the Range of Exposure. Another method we have used is based on a very specific client goal – to learn the possible range of verdicts to help inform mediation negotiations. That is, a client can learn what the worst-case verdict would be compared to the best, based on the leanings of the jurors in the test.

In one example, we placed the strongest plaintiff jurors in the same group, while constructing the second group of all defense jurors. The third deliberation group was made up of the folks who were left over or indicated an unsure leaning. Here, our client learned the potential exposure for his client should the facts at trial mirror our project and, armed with that range of exposure, was in a strategic position to negotiate a good settlement for his client.

  • Test Your Jury Deselection Strategy. Sometimes a client wants to test a jury deselection strategy. When this is our goal, we allow the two “sides” to identify their strikes and also identify who they believe will be their best jurors. From there, we divide the groups putting the stricken jurors into one group. It is always interesting to see which side had the better predictions based on jurors’ profiles, but more importantly, it provides a good test for the general profiles of your most desirable (and undesirable) jurors.

While there may be other ways to split the jury panels for a mock trial, determining what information you want to learn is the primary factor. The most common is dividing the jurors as evenly as possible based on their case favoritism. This will ensure a thorough discussion and identification of your case strengths and weaknesses. If you decide to use another method, be sure to question the purpose of that option to ensure your project goals are being met.

Jennifer-NemecekBy: Jennifer Nemecek, Consultant

[1]  This approach applies to larger Mock Trials and Focus Groups where the number of participants exceeds 10 or 12 jurors and there is a need to break participants into smaller groups, or “juries,” for the purposes of deliberations.

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