Taking a "Snapshot" of How Jurors View Your Case
How do jurors view my case? Have recent events or new information changed jurors' initial impressions? Knowing the answers to these questions allows you to manage your case more effectively by (a) understanding potential jurors' initial opinions on the case, (b) giving appropriate consideration to early settlement opportunities, (c) appropriately weighing the need to respond to potential issues in the public arena, and (d) managing client expectations.
Traditionally, attorneys have relied on their own experience and, more recently, on in-depth empirical approaches such as small group research (e.g., focus groups and trial simulations) and juror profile surveys (e.g., large-scale opinion and demographic surveys) to answer the above questions. However, while the latter empirical approaches are valuable, they have budgetary limitations (with costs as high as $20,000 or more) and, in some cases, methodological limitations (relatively small sample sizes in small group research). And, if you are very far in advance of trial, your findings are likely to become out of date as news reports, discovery, and other intervening events combine to reshape jurors' views of the case. What is needed is a flexible, cost--effective approach that provides quick answers to basic questions at any point in the litigation.
Just such an approach is available through our "quick poll" method–a small-scale poll conducted in the trial jurisdiction. These polls involve an average of 100 respondents who answer 5 to 15 questions which focus on a few limited issues at a cost of $5,000 to $7,000. This approach provides a quick and focused look at how jurors view your case. This can be very important when faced with evolving litigation such as products liability or highly publicized cases that are in the public eye for months at a time. Using the quick poll method, you can look at your case at any time (the "snapshot" approach) and even monitor shifting opinion patterns of jurors over the course of the litigation (the "tracking" approach).
As an example of this approach, we recently applied our quick poll method to the upcoming Microsoft antitrust litigation. We interviewed 100 jury-qualified residents of the District of Columbia, addressing three basic issues: (1) Were jurors aware of the litigation? (2) Did jurors have preferences as to which side they would favor in the case? and (3) Did jurors' views of the high-profile defendant (Bill Gates) influence their verdict preference?
Are jurors aware of the case?
We addressed the general awareness of the Microsoft litigation by asking "jurors" the following question: "Have you heard or read anything about the Justice Department's antitrust lawsuit brought against Microsoft Corporation, the software manufacturer?" As shown in Figure 1, a large majority (82%) of the jurors had heard of the case.
Which side do jurors favor?
All jurors were given a brief description of the Microsoft antitrust litigation and asked whether they favored the government's position or the defendant's, Microsoft, position.
As Figure 2 reveals, at the time of this survey, neither side possessed an overwhelming advantage. A majority (51%) of jurors favored the government in the Microsoft antitrust litigation. However, a substantial minority (29%) favored Microsoft Corporation, with another 20% of the jurors saying that they were unsure or had no opinion on the case.
How do jurors view key figures?
Finally, jurors were asked for their views of two key figures in the case, Bill Gates and Janet Reno, as well as other influential entities such as the FBI and Newt Gingrich. Janet Reno had the highest overall ratings (84% positive). Bill Gates received the second--highest ratings (64% positive). The FBI received the third--highest ratings (59% positive). Newt Gingrich received the lowest ratings (18% positive). Figure 3 shows the ratings for Janet Reno and Bill Gates.
While jurors viewed both Janet Reno and Bill Gates in an overall positive light, it is important to recognize the implications of the perceptions of these two figures. Given the present level of publicity concerning the Microsoft antitrust litigation, Bill Gates and Janet Reno serve as icons for their respective positions in this litigation. This characteristic is demonstrated by the jurors' views of these figures and their support for either party in the antitrust litigation. Jurors who had unfavorable views of Bill Gates favored the government's position in the dispute. Jurors who had positive impressions of Janet Reno favored the government's case. The importance of the perceptions of these entities is demonstrated in remarkable fashion in the further examination of the significant relationship between the jurors' views of Bill Gates and their verdicts in this case.
As shown in Figure 4, in terms of positive views of Bill Gates, 67% of the jurors who viewed Bill Gates in a very positive light sided with Microsoft, while 33% of the jurors who viewed him as somewhat positive sided with Microsoft. However, 100% of the jurors who had either a somewhat or very negative view of Bill Gates sided with the government in the Microsoft case.
As illustrated by the quick poll method, either side could look to these results at any point in the litigation for guidance as to (a) where they stand in the eyes of jurors, (b) potential points of concern, and (c) directions for future, in-depth research.
The quick poll is not designed for an in-depth analysis of the case, but is a quick snapshot of how jurors view the case at any point in the litigation. This approach is both flexible and cost-effective, allowing for a one-time look or a programmed monitoring of potentially shifting patterns in jurors' views of significant cases.