In order to get the most out of your investment in jury research, it’s important to consider the best time to do a mock trial. And that timing largely depends on your research goals and what other research you have done in your case. For example, have you done early jury research and are now primarily testing to see how your revised case themes resonate with jurors? Or are you most interested in assessing jurors’ reactions to key witnesses (who are often on video from their depositions)? What you hope to accomplish affects not only which research design is best for you, but how to time that research to best meet your objectives.
When to Conduct a Mock Trial
One important rule of thumb for deciding when to conduct your mock trial is to consider how much time you will need to incorporate what you learn from the research into your theme refinement, case strategy and witness preparation. In our experience, trial teams need at least three to four weeks to incorporate changes, with additional time needed if you have extensive witness preparation and changes you need to make. (You will have to allow time to have the data from the research analyzed as well.) So if witness testing is an important objective of your research, you should allow additional time before trial.
You don’t want to be that trial team who schedules its mock trial three weeks before trial begins, only to receive results that indicate its case themes and strategy aren’t as persuasive to jurors as it anticipated. Those teams just haven’t given themselves enough time to retool and refocus their cases, particularly if they’ve tested key witnesses who would benefit from additional preparation.
All this means that, ideally, most trial teams should plan on conducting their mock trials anytime between six and 10 weeks prior to trial. Others conduct them closer for mediation purposes. But the real deciding factor when to hold your mock trial should be the timing that gives you the best chance to learn what you want to learn, and incorporate the research takeaways into your case or settlement strategy.
What Are The Advantages of Holding a Mock Trial Close to Trial?
Some trial teams use the mock trial to test how jurors will respond to their fully developed cases. This is one reason mock trials are particularly well-suited for use shortly before trial. A full mock trial generally has attorney openings and closings, with the rest of the information presented to jurors through witness testimony. As such, this format is the closest in terms of research design to what actually goes on at trial (for a comparison of the relative strengths of the mock trial and focus group designs, see our previous blog post). At trial, jurors often find it a real challenge to understand how each witness’s testimony relates to your case story because they get different aspects of it from each witness. This is different from the coherent and linear form in which most of us are used to getting our information. In the mock trial format, witness testimony presents information in bits and pieces and, therefore, mirrors the way jurors will get their facts during the actual trial. This is why the mock trial format is a good idea for use as you move toward trial; it’s about as close as you can get to the real thing.
By: Barbara Hillmer, Ph.D. – Senior Consultant
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