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Focus Groups and their Value to the Trial Attorney

Our firm values the concept of the focus group.  In fact, Attorney Daniel Ryan values the concept so much, he started a company called Hearsay Legal Consulting.

He recently wrote an article touting the virtues of focus groups, and here are a few excerpts from that article:

"Focus groups are a tremendous tool to achieve understanding of what you’ll be facing. For some time, I’ve been a vocal advocate of them. I’ve presented How-Tos and promoted focus group efficacy at MATA meetings for years. I’ve followed the advice of non-trial lawyers who publish DVDs and books, and through it all, I’ve always felt that the info I was getting was really inadequate. So, I did what all good attorneys do: I dug deeper.
 
In the months leading up to trial, we spend enormous amounts of time and money proving our case to the other lawyer, the judge, and ourselves. Well, none of those legally-trained people are the ones who, in the end, award our clients money. The jury does. Regular folks.
 
My realization happened after getting a mediocre result on a case that should have tilted my way. My opponent didn’t challenge the plaintiff’s argument. Instead, he positioned the defendant (a well-known company) as a titan in the marketplace, red-blooded American heroes who could never create a product that would, by act or negligence, harm anyone. And, as much as my client had suffered, the jury just couldn’t fault the company all that much. The defense had used emotional triggers to frame the case in such a way that cause and effect were irrelevant.
 
That’s when I shifted my perspective and, in the process, I shifted the landscape of how I approach casework. "
.......
"After searching for a long, long time, I took matters into my own hands and formed a company, Hearsay Legal Consulting, a focus group service by trial lawyers for trial lawyers and conducted by world-class marketing, advertising, and communications experts. My partners are two marketing people who are experts in the field of conducting focus groups, analyzing the data, and mining public opinion and producing information that we trial lawyers really need to know, such as what potential jurors want to know, what they feel, what they think is relevant.
 
Time and time again, they’ve discovered things that we never thought were relevant.  That is the edge we need to properly present our case.  This isn’t jury research; this is case analysis by the people who really count--the public, the jury pool.
 
Jury research and mock trials have a major weakness.  “Jurors” randomly selected from the phone book, temp agency, or Craigslist will rarely provide a thoughtful, well-articulated perspective on a case.
 
Match that grab bag against a real focus group -- an even mix of gender, income, higher education, and profession – and a robust round table discussion about your case, and you come out ahead of the stale present-your-case approach. "
......
"A snapshot of public opinion on your case is invaluable. I find it stunning that trial attorneys will spend big bucks on jury research to eliminate one bad juror from the mix instead of finding the best way to engage all of them.
 
But that’s our industry’s curse, isn’t it? The old guard taught us to start strategizing for the courtroom from day one, so that’s what we’ve done. We’ve prepared for the big argument and what we’re going to tell the jury. But if we know where their heads are (or could be) from the beginning, it makes it easier to frame the case in such a way that it resonates with everyone. It’s talking to them in their language, not asking them to speak ours. Ignore that at your—and your client’s – peril."

For more information, visit www.hearsaylegal.com.

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