Taking the Guess Work Out of Jury Trials – Focus Groups

Jury trials are, by design, the final arbiter of any lawsuit. In all jury trials, the case is presented to the six or twelve jurors, who then determine the facts of the case. In Illinois the decision of the jury must be unanimous. That decision of the jurors is delivered to the court officer, who reads it to the parties and attorneys and then a final judgment or order is entered. The essence of a jury trial is a focus group of the issues of the case. But rather than guess at what might develop and happen at a jury trial, focus groups and trial preparation are vital in determining how best to proceed at the real trial.

Focus groups are actually, if done correctly, simply a trial for practice. Some lawyers do focus groups over and over again before trial to try to flesh out issues, evidence and biases of potential jurors. 

Assembling a group of citizens from different walks of life to sit in judgment of facts is exactly what a trial is. The value of a focus group is to do exactly the same thing, but to do it without a final order. The techniques of focus groups are varied. Many lawyers conduct what is known as concept focus groups. Some lawyers engage in a structured focus group. Others run what are called mock trials. But all in all, focus groups are about listening rather than talking. The goal is to learn what potential trial jurors would think about a case, the facts, the evidence, even photographs. By learning what potential jurors understand about a case, lawyers will begin to understand what typical biases may surface. Everyone has biases and some prejudices. The idea behind a focus group is to very carefully dissect the responses that these practice jurors develop in deliberating a lawyer’s case. 

A well-run focus group may reveal the strengths and many of the weaknesses of any case. In one concept focus group, a lawyer asked the focus group jurors to consider a photograph of the property damage in a high-impact automobile crash. One of the photographs showed the inside panel of one of the vehicles. One of the jurors mistakenly pointed out that a twig seemed to be a marijuana cigarette. That vehicle was operated by the plaintiff who brought the lawsuit complaining about the severe injuries suffered. Had that same photograph been in the jury room for deliberation at a real trial, it is very likely that the jurors would have blamed the plaintiff for the crash because of what was believed to be the use of marijuana, when in fact it was not. That photograph would have been abandoned as a possible offering of evidence at trial because of the focus group jurors’ response to it.

In practice, a focus group is the most valuable tool in determining the strengths and weaknesses of a case. Why would lawyers risk everything on a case without first knowing what the strengths and weaknesses of the case might be in advance? It could only help in trial preparation and in the outcome. 

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling civil jury trials for more than 37 years using focus groups regularly in practice in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Palatine, Rosemont, Riverside, Morton Grove, Hinsdale, Joliet, Round Lake, Libertyville, Riverwoods, Elk Grove Village, Itasca, Roselle and Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Related blog posts:

Jury Selection’s Twists, Turns and Attitudes

US Court of Appeals Reverses Jury Verdict Over the Use of Demonstrative Evidence in the Jury Room

Trial Court Must Exercise Caution in Granting a Motion for Directed Verdict on an Opening Statement