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Trial consulting uses psychology or sociology as a tool in preparing trial strategy, selecting jurors, evaluating community attitudes, and assessing strengths and weaknesses during trial. Consultants use focus groups, surveys, and mock trials to assist attorneys in devising a persuasive case and improving their chances of success. Some trial consulting experts prepare witnesses to increase their credibility with the jury panel. The process might include observing the trial and providing daily feedback to attorneys, and analyzing jury verdicts to plan for appeals.
Jury selection is the most common use of consulting services in the legal arena. Consultants use their education and knowledge of human nature to help lawyers screen jurors for bias or prejudice. They provide advice on the type of juror who might vote favorably for one side or the other. Trial consulting services typically assist attorneys in preparing lists of questions to ask potential jurors.
Mock trials represent one area of trial consulting that might produce valuable information for attorneys preparing their cases. These exercises either use videotapes of actual witnesses or people who portray witnesses to gauge their credibility. The mock jury evaluates the opening statement and closing argument, views exhibits presented during the proceeding, and gives an overall opinion of the case, including questions that need to be addressed. A mock trial might last one full day or longer, depending on the complexity of the case.
Focus groups serve a similar purpose, but are less formal than mock trials. Trial consultants employ one or more groups of people before the trial to obtain impressions of the evidence. The focus group commonly reads witness statements and looks at exhibits before providing suggestions. This trial consulting tool might help an attorney determine the theme of the case and facts that should be stressed during the actual trial.
Surveys of the community might assist lawyers considering a change of venue in high-profile cases. These cases typically receive a lot of media attention because of the notoriety of the people or organization involved. Cases that impact residents in the region might also benefit from surveys to evaluate attitudes. An attorney may use results of the survey to argue for a change of venue if potential jurors show bias.
Trial observation commonly uses a group of citizens, called shadow jurors, who listen to evidence and report their opinions on the case twice a day. The shadow jurors assess each step of the trial and make suggestions to improve strategy. They might comment on the demeanor of the attorneys and analyze the testimony of witnesses. Shadow jurors commonly provide feedback during the lunch break and at the end of the day.
Some attorneys use a combination of trial consulting services to devise trial strategy. They might develop profiles for prospective jurors and discover where to shore up testimony to stress major points in the case. When post-verdict consulting occurs, an attorney gains information about what prompted the jury decision as a tool to prepare for an appeal.