It’s been just about a month since the presidential election and I’ve finally recovered from my (somewhat manic and time-consuming) addiction to the presidential polling data. What can I say? I became a political polling junkie. I found the disparity between the various polls to be absolutely fascinating. And the talking heads? Even better. The very nature of polling is an attempt to predict the unpredictable: human behavior.
Hindsight being what it is, we now know that the polling methodology used by the Obama campaign was more accurate than that used by the Romney campaign. I mention this not to open a can of political worms, but to illustrate a point. As the Romney campaign painfully learned: if your sample or methodology is off-kilter, your results will be too.
What does this have to do with jury consulting? Let me answer the question with a question: do you want your next group of mock jurors to be off-kilter? I didn’t think so.
When CourtroomLogic conducts pretrial research, we take exceptional care to recruit the most representative group possible. We’re not statisticians or number-nerds, but we’ve implemented a few strategies that have worked well for us throughout the years. Here are some of our favorites.
- Local Requirements. Recruit only those folks who would meet the requirements of serving on an actual jury in your trial venue. Some venues create juror lists using valid drivers’ license information, yet others use a combination of DL and voter registration records. Do some homework ahead of time and determine the practice of the local court.
- Demographics. Research the most current demographic data that is available for the actual trial venue. Age, gender, education and race/ethnicity are the biggies, but occasionally occupation, income and religion are critical factors as well. You may need to do a little number-crunching to weed out data for those less than 18 years old– don’t assume the percentage breakdowns automatically translate.
- Employment Status. The economy is less than stellar right now and unemployment numbers are certainly higher than we’d like. Some venues have been hit harder than others, but when is the last time you presented a case to a panel of 12 unemployed jurors? Probably never. Google may be your best friend in researching employment data, but if you can’t find it online, check with the Chamber of Commerce in the local trial venue.
- Conflicts and Cause. Identify any clear-cut issues related to cause or conflicts that would render a surrogate juror inappropriate for the project. If you are defending a gender discrimination claim, you don’t want a juror who has filed a discrimination claim on your panel. Avoid recruiting friends and family, too. If you’d release or strike that person if he/she were in the actual venire panel, then cut that person during the recruiting phase. To seat jurors who would never be on a real panel is an invitation for skewed results.
There are many, many aspects to conducting reliable, valid and professional jury research. Recruiting is one of the many moving parts, and it’s important to recognize that sloppy recruiting can yield sloppy results. If the surrogate panel fails to accurately represent the folks from the actual trial venue, expecting their feedback to be representative is a risky assumption.
Insist on good recruiting practices. You’ll be happy you did.