Ultimately, a panel of jurors will decide your case. Knowing as much as possible about those jurors is therefore a critical element of trial strategy. Developing a juror profile you can requires gathering information about the characteristics of pro-plaintiff/pro-defense jurors in a scientifically valid manner. Just asking staff at your firm or a group of friends what they think doesn’t give you reliable information. The most reliable tool to develop your profile is based on the background questionnaire used in your jury research projects. In this blog post, we discuss how results from a questionnaire can serve as the foundation for your juror profile and how to design a well-constructed background questionnaire that gives you information you can trust.
What is a background questionnaire? A background questionnaire is a methodological tool we use to assess mock jurors’ attitudes, experiences and demographics. This information is then correlated with jurors’ end-of-the-day votes to develop a plaintiff- or defense-juror profile for the purpose of jury deselection. That alone makes it an important part of the jury research process. It is the first questionnaire jurors complete when arriving at our jury research projects, be it a focus group, mock trial or deliberation group. It is essential in tracking jurors’ baseline attitudes and experiences before they hear the content of the lawsuit they have been asked to listen to, evaluate and deliberate to a verdict.
Why is it important? In order to maximize the relevance of your juror profile, it is critical to tailor parts of the background questionnaire to the individual lawsuit that is being tested. Because each case is unique, with its own issues and challenges, having a “one-size-fits-all” questionnaire that includes the same questions for all types of cases won’t do the job. Because each juror filter case facts through her own personal predispositions and experiences, it’s key to learn what specific factors will impact how she interprets the evidence to develop her narrative of what happened. Therefore, the more general the questionnaire and the wording of its questions, the less likely you’ll be to receive a refined juror profile that reveals which attitudes and experiences matter most in your case.
Another important benefit of the background questionnaire is informing your voir dire development. One of the many goals of jury selection is to identify biases of, and therefore deselect, jurors who won’t be able to fairly “hear” your side of the case. With that in mind, once you have developed a juror profile from your questionnaire data, and identified its key questions, you can refine your voir dire to include those questions that identified the jurors you want to deselect.
Why does a questionnaire’s construction matter? Because of the effect its results can have on your case, this is not a questionnaire to be taken lightly. It is the foundation for what litigation consultants do – identify the characteristics of the jurors who are strongly predisposed against your case. In order to be able to trust your questionnaire’s results, it should be developed according to established research methodology and adhere to appropriate question and answer formats. Language used in questions (and answer options, where applicable) needs to accurately capture the attitudes or beliefs you are trying to assess. A question that is poorly worded simply doesn’t offer any predictive value. For instance, a double-barreled question (one that assesses two beliefs/concepts at the same time) confounds what you are trying to learn. As a result, this question (and the results that come from it) will lack effectiveness in measuring attitude you are trying to identify.
A plain Jane questionnaire that gathers demographic information and asks a few general questions cannot delve deeply into jurors’ attitudes and beliefs. When evaluating your litigation consultants, be sure they are using the proper social science methodology for questionnaire development. This is the only reliable and valid way to ensure you are receiving the best foundation for your juror profile, voir dire and jury deselection strategy.
By: Merrie Jo Pitera, Ph.D. – CEO