LAW LIFE: Jury consulting on a shoestring

By Nora Tooher

The Daily Record Newswire

Facing a clampdown on litigation spending, jury consultants are offering a broad range of new, low-cost, online trial research and graphics tools.

"We are seeing with the tighter economic times that people are relying more on online surveys, which tend to be more cost-effective about gathering information than traditional focus groups/mock trials," said Daniel Wolfe, director of jury consulting at Kroll Ontrack/TrialGraphix in Chicago.

Some elaborate online mock trials display demonstrative evidence and include videos of the attorneys' opening and closing statements. Others are more pared-down affairs that relate issues in text.

Mock jurors in some online focus groups discuss cases in real time via chat room setups. In other cases, they may give their reactions over the Internet or leave a telephone message.

The cost of online mock trials and focus groups can be up to half of the expense of traditional focus groups conducted in person, according to Wolfe.

"You pay less for recruiting; you don't have to rent a facility; you don't have to feed people. So there are cost savings there," Wolfe said.

"The whole thing is about efficiency," commented Philip Anthony, chief executive of DecisionQuest, a Washington, D.C.-based trial consulting firm.

Wolfe said cost concerns, coupled with technological advances, are driving other web-based innovations, such as "virtual shadow juries."

Thanks to streaming web broadcasts from many courtrooms, mock jurors located off-site can watch a trial in real-time and give their reactions to help lawyers tweak their trial strategy, Wolfe said.

Other recession-related trial consulting trends include:

* Scaled-down research exercises. Trial lawyers and corporate legal departments are controlling costs by reducing the length of research exercises, going from three days to one or cutting down on the number of mock jurors.

* Bids. Attorneys who work with corporate clients are asking trial consultants to bid competitively for work.

* Fixed fees. "Within our industry, folks are asking for more definite and circumscribed types of budgets, meaning a fixed budget," Wolfe said. "We're seeing that occurring more frequently regarding demonstratives."

* Do-it-yourself graphics. Kroll Ontrack/Trial Graphix recently launched several online graphics options that allow attorneys and paralegals to become more involved in the process and control their budgets.

Clients can collaborate with the firm's professional graphic artists or use templates to develop their own timelines, charts and other graphics for a fixed price.

"We've realized there are certain demonstratives folks needed that you can do from templates," Wolfe said.

Misty Murray, a paralegal at Chittenden, Murday & Novotny in Chicago, recently worked with the firm's graphics artists online to create demonstratives for trial.

"It's a really good way for the law firm to become hands-on with the ... exhibits they're presenting to the jury," she said.

Published: Thu, Feb 16, 2012

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