by Katie Bagwill
Watching a mock jury deliberate is a lot like watching Dr. Phil; there is a lot of arguing, and most of the “facts” end up skewed. Nevertheless, a mock jury’s conclusions and how they reach them are essential to any lawyer who wants to understand the weaknesses of his or her case. Here are some of my takeaways from observing this fascinating exercise recently.
- Be clear. If a point or idea you want to instill in the jury isn’t clarified enough, you will see it warped and interpreted wildly during the deliberations. During each mock presentation that I saw, the amount of attention paid and the volume of notes taken varied, but one constant seemed to be apparent: jurors want to feel as if they have all the information. Even if they don’t, once they have a firm opinion, they will use any of the “facts” they have to defend it. Naturally you want these facts to be in your favor, but for the sake of this exercise it is actually more beneficial to you for the stacks to be weighted against you. In order to improve, you need to know how you could lose.
- Be passionate but humble. It is important for the jury to feel empathetic toward your client, and for that to happen they need to connect with you. While presenting your case, you want to appear confident and informed without coming off as arrogant. Persuasion is all about presentation. One of the most important notes that our mock jurors made about one of our presenters was that he seemed “smug,” which made him seem sneaky, and it spiraled from there.
- Honesty is the best policy for your mock juries – by far. An important factor for an experiment, the mock trial, to be generalizable to the greater population, the entire jury pool, is that participants be honest in their answers. In our exercise, we had remote devices that each participant used to answer our questions, and we received feedback in real time. To set the stage of how they should answer the questions, a test question was asked, “Have you ever driven over the speed limit?” The expected answer would be “yes” across the board, assuming that all participants drive. However, in our group we had one “no” and one “not applicable.” The former had been unsure of “how serious it was” and apologized for not answering completely honestly, while the latter seemed to just be completely in denial. The idea that, “it doesn’t count because everyone else was doing it, but I was the only one caught,” is a dangerous mindset in a child and even scarier in an adult. With this experience in mind, you should remember not to put too much weight on any individual’s answer to one question, but rather look at the patterns of decision-making in the group.
- Ignorance is not bliss. The people who paid the least amount of attention during the presentations seemed to be the biggest talkers in the deliberation room. This would confirm the idea of the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias in which less competent people believe they are more competent, and more competent people doubt themselves. This is a scary idea in theory, and even scarier in practice. Imagine you are being tried by a jury full of people who don’t really understand any of the facts of the case, but their “instincts” tell them you’re guilty. Unfortunately, these people don’t wear a sign around their necks professing their ignorance, and you’re just going to have to gather as much other information about their decision-making during voir dire as you can. In the exercise I observed, it was sad to see that there were a handful of participants whose bloated confidence in their opinions kept all opposing mock jurors silent for fear of being yelled into submission.
- Be prepared in advance. Once you’re selecting your jury or presenting your case in court, it is too late to start thinking about how you will keep the jury on your side. Using a mock jury will separate the “good” evidence in your presentation from the “bad” while you still have time to reshape your narrative.
Other A2L Consulting articles about mock juries, mock trials and jury consulting:
- The Dumbest Jurors Don't Know They Are Dumb
- 10 Things Every Mock Jury Ever Has Said
- 5 Ways That a Mock Trial Informs and Shapes Voir Dire
- 11 Problems with Mock Trials and How to Avoid Them
- 6 Ways to Use a Mock Trial to Develop your Opening Statement
- SPICE is the Key to Persuasion
- Free Webinar: 12 Things Every Mock Juror Ever Has Said - Watch Anytime