What does an attorney call his or her opinions and beliefs about a pending legal case? The answer is, “untested hypotheses.”
Well, the attorney may not call those opinions and beliefs untested hypotheses but that is what the professionals at Westlake Trial Consulting call them. Do you know what is better than an untested hypothesis? A tested hypothesis. The best way to test a hypothesis about an upcoming trial or mediation is by use of focus groups.
Unlike other trial consulting firms, the professionals at Westlake Trial Consulting conduct different types of focus groups, depending upon your needs.
The scientific approach we use when conducting focus groups and analyzing focus group data gives you the behavioral science edge over your opponent.
Online Focus Group – Online focus groups are focus groups that are conducted over the internet. Focus group participants complete demographic and attitudinal questionnaires. Then they read case material and respond to jury charge questions. Since each focus group participant responds to case material on their own, there are no group deliberations. Despite the lack of group deliberations, the online focus group provides reliable information about case themes and likely responses to the jury charge. The advantage of the online focus group is that it can be conducted quickly and usually for much less than the cost of other focus groups.
Concept Focus Group – In preparation for the Concept Focus Group, Westlake Trial Consulting professionals will meet with the attorney to identify case themes, plaintiff’s story, defense arguments, and key plaintiff and defense evidence. Based upon these discussions, Westlake Trial Consulting and the attorney will specify critical case elements that need to be examined during the Concept Focus Group, and the order in which these factors need to be presented. Information that may be discussed in a Concept Focus Group includes but is not limited to plaintiff case summary, defendant’s case summary, open-ended question, documentary evidence, and video presentation of key witnesses.
Deliberation Focus Groups – Deliberation focus groups are conducted by Westlake Trial Consulting professionals and the attorney does not need to be present. This can be a real time-saver for the busy attorney. In a deliberation focus group, one of the professionals from Westlake Trial Consulting reads case information to the focus group participants, the focus group participants complete an individual jury charge and then they deliberate as a group. Information disseminated during a deliberation focus group typically includes: Information All Parties Agree Upon, Plaintiff Case Summary, Defense Case Summary, one key piece of plaintiff evidence and one key piece of defense evidence.
Presentation Focus Group – The attorneys must attend a presentation focus group because the attorneys are responsible for presenting the case summaries; one attorney must present the plaintiff opening and another attorney must present the defendant opening. After the case summaries are presented, Westlake Trial Consulting professionals present one key piece of plaintiff evidence and one key piece of defense evidence. The analyses are a little different in a presentation focus group because we collect data from the focus group participants regarding the presentation made by the attorneys. This allows us to give the attorneys feedback about how potential jurors react to them.
We start out with all of the focus group participants in one room. We administer various questions to focus group participants designed to measure demographic factors. More importantly, the questionnaires filled out by participants contain research based questionnaires that measure attitudes that are known to relate to how jurors reach verdicts. After we the participants complete questionnaires, the case information is presented. Then each focus group participant completes a jury charge on their own, before they discuss the case with anyone. This allows us to analyze how the demographic and attitudinal factors can be used to predict responses to the questions on the jury charge. Then we divide the focus group participants into groups of eight to ten. Each group elects a foreperson and they deliberate the case.
We generally recommend two rounds of focus groups. We conduct one round of focus groups with twenty to thirty individuals and after we analyze the results of this round of focus groups, we meet with the attorneys and together we brainstorm ways to improve the case presentation. Then the second round of focus groups is conducted. The second round of focus groups can be either a deliberation focus group or a presentation focus group.
In our experience, most attorneys use focus groups prior to mediation or trial to give themselves a behavioral science edge over their opponents. You might want to think about how a focus group might give you a much needed edge in your work.