Selecting Jurors May Soon Be Aided by Technology Breakthrough

According to a recent American Bar Association Journal article written by Scott Carlson, trial consultants are turning to a proprietary software and technology information service for a product called Voltaire for jury selection. At least in my jury trial experience, selecting the jury is the most difficult and anxiety-ridden part of a trial. It must also be considered the most important aspect of the trial.

In practice, I have used trial consultants regularly to help select jurors who would be most receptive to the kind of case brought before them. Trial consultants are extremely objective in how they evaluate prospective jurors, their backgrounds, experiences, work histories and family backgrounds and are essential in the jury selection process. There’s been no practical way to search on the fly what the social media references show about a potential juror. That information could be especially valuable to deselect a prospective jury member.

The days of human-to-human contact in jury selection may be changing. Instead, lawyers could eventually rely on the technical information services of a software product such as Voltaire to pick appropriate jurors.

According to the ABA Journal article, “Voltaire’s software can search through billions of data points, including public records and social media posts, and – within a matter of minutes – pull up all kinds of information on prospective jurors.  The software, which is powered by IBM Watson, also uses deep psycholinguistic and behavioral analysis to discover the biases and views of prospective jurors and to deliver real-time predictions on how they might vote.”

Voltaire has been available since October 2015. It has provided information to lawyers in 105 trials, including 25 attorney clients. The company says it has equal numbers of plaintiff and defense law firms as its clients.

The founder of Voltaire, Basit Mustafa, was a chief financial officer at IBM and has remained close to his former employer.  Voltaire is partnered with IBM and the company’s Watson Service in this venture.

Having a software product like Voltaire at a lawyer’s elbow when selecting a jury would be an enormous help in gathering vital information on each prospective juror. In one case, jury consultant Carol Bauss found that a prospective juror had her own ministry and was a motivational speaker. One can conclude from that background that the prospective juror would have a strong presence in the deliberation room with other jurors and could be the jury’s foreperson. Those facts would not have otherwise likely been revealed in the usual voir dire.

It is simply hard to argue against the notion that the more information available to lawyers about a prospective jury, the better in understanding what biases each may have and what effect those biases might have on the ultimate decision in the case. This could be the breakthrough on how jury trials are handled. There certainly will be competition and other software designers eager to replicate or improve on Voltaire. This technology may soon become the mainstay of jury-selection assistance.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handing civil jury trials for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Arlington Heights, Orland Park, Justice, Gurnee, Highland Park, Highwood, Lake Zurich, Calumet City, South Barrington, Chicago Heights, South Holland, Chicago (Rogers Park, Wrigleyville, Greek Town, Little Italy, Logan Square), Tinley Park and Rosemont, Ill.

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