Monday, July 25, 2005

Are Jury Consultants Worth the Money?

Jury consultants came into vogue during the 1970's. They have been controversial ever since. Some of the big-name jury consultants, like Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, Robert Hirschhorn, and Andrew Sheldon can bring in tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars a case. Are they worth it?

There is even an organization for jury consultants: The American Society of Trial Consultants [ASTC]. ASTC puts out an excellent publication called The Jury Expert, which is available at a subscription rate to non-members.

Most jury consultants are social scientists, many with Ph.D.s, but there is no single field of study that prepares one for a career as a jury consultant. Psychology (experimental, social, and otherwise), sociology, theatre, linguistics, political science, statistics, law, communications, graphics design, advertising, etc. all open the door into the high-paying world of jury consultants. ASTC does not have any academic or professional requirements for membership.

Is it all just smoke and mirrors?

Probably not. Jury consultants do far more than pick juries. They are involved in venue and community attitude surveys, focus group and mock jury studies, assisting attorneys in presenting their cases more persuasively and understandably, and witness preparation, in addition to other things. Some of these may be enormously valuable - but expensive.

But there are alot of bad jury consultants out there. There are alot of jury consultants who are unqualified, or under-qualified, or who, while competent in some areas of jury consulting, venture outside of their area of competence on a regular basis.

Often, lawyers hire jury consultants so they'll have someone to blame when they lose. That is not a service clients should be asked to pay for. Poorly chosen jury consultants, and lawyers who don't know what they want out of a jury consultant, will nearly always lead to bad results.

A good jury consultant can make a huge difference in case presentation, jury selection, and persuasion. But perhaps more than in any other field of the law, hiring a jury consultant requires the buyer to beware. The selection of what services the lawyer wants help with should be made first - and then a jury consultant with specific expertise in that area should be selected.


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