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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Different Strokes for Different Folks: Consultant Usage varies by specialty and experience

Digging Deeper in the Data

In my last post, I reviewed some general trends in the data from my survey of trial and graphics consultant usage by trial attorneys. As I mentioned in the last post, the survey is completely confidential and only takes about 2 minutes to fill out. Several lawyers responded to my invitation and followed this link to participate in the survey. As such, the data I review today includes a few more observations. The more the merrier, so please take the survey if you have not yet done so!

In perusing the data, I noticed a few interesting trends. These relate to how long a respondent has been practicing law, what kind of cases she handles and where her office is located. I now turn to some of these trends.

Youth vs. Experience

One might expect that young lawyers would be more likely to hire trial and graphics consultants because these folks have grown up in the "high-tech" era. Everything in their lives has been accompanied by fancy graphics and animation. These young lawyers also went to law school after the adoption of the interdisciplinary approach to legal education. A lawyer under 50 years of age is more likely to have been taught by dual-degree professors and might, therefore, have a greater appreciation for the value of psychology and other social sciences in litigation.

As illustrated in the graphs below, this expectation is not born out in the data.

Trial Consultant Usage by Attorneys
More than 15 years experience    Less than 15 years Experience

Graphics Consultant Usage by Attorneys
More than 15 years Experience       Less than 15 years Experience

Trial lawyers with more than 15 years of experience were much more likely to report having employed a trial consultant or graphics consultant than their younger colleagues. So, what do we make of these results?

I think that there are a few factors at work here. First of all, a more experienced litigator will have handled a larger number of cases. As such, she is more likely to have come across some case along the way that seemed to require the expertise of an outside consultant, with respect to either jury or graphics issues.

Second, more experienced litigators tend to handle the higher stakes cases. This is both because litigants with a lot on the line seek out experienced litigators and because large firms assign their highest stakes cases to their most experienced lawyers. These high stakes cases are the ones for which lawyers see the most justification for incurring the expense of a trial or graphics consultant.

Exactly one respondent indicated that she uses a trial consultant in more than half of her cases. She is also the one lawyer who said she uses a graphics consultant more than half the time. This litigator has been practicing for less than five years, supporting, at least anecdotally, the "new breed of lawyer" hypothesis.

Cost Conscious Courtroom Counsellors

In the previous section, I raised for the first time the influence clients can have on their attorneys' trial strategy decisions. The survey sample is made up almost entirely of three kinds of trial lawyers, with different kinds of clients. More than half of the respondents handle predominantly civil defense cases. The remainder is roughly evenly divided between plaintiffs' attorneys and criminal defense attorneys. The differences in reported trial and graphics consultant usage among these three groups is quite remarkable.

Trial Consultant Usage by Attorneys by Primary Practice Area
Civil Defense         Civil Plaintiff           Criminal Defense

Civil defense attorneys are very often hired by insurance companies, who are the ultimate deep-pocket, repeat players in the judicial system. Handling thousands of trials annually, insurance company risk managers understand the value of pretrial research, witness preparation and well-designed jury selection strategy. A litigator might not be inclined to reach out to a consultant for advice, figuring that she has all the tools she needs to win a case. When an insurance company claims supervisor tells that litigator to run a focus group study, she does as she is told. From a personal perspective, I know that many civil defense attorneys call me because an insurance company has told them to "get your jury guy on the phone and set up a mock trial." Under such an arrangement, the litigator incurs none of the cost associated with hiring a consultant.

By contrast, most plaintiffs' attorneys reported having never used a trial consultant. This should not be surprising, given that their clients tend to have less money to work with. In addition, many plaintiffs, having never been involved in a trial before, have unrealistic expectations about the cost of litigation. A plaintiff attorney is under enormous pressure to keep costs down. The financial situation facing a plaintiff attorney tends to differ from that of the defense attorney on the other side of the aisle. Many plaintiffs' attorneys are solo practitioners or members of very small firms, handling mostly small cases. When a high stakes case does come along, such an attorney faces severe cash flow problems financing the litigation. While such a lawyer might very much want to hire a trial or graphics consultant, she might simply not have access to the funds to do so. I know that many of us in the trial consulting community have attempted to implement creative fee structures to make our services more available to plaintiffs' attorneys.

The graph representing trial consulting usage by criminal defense attorneys is probably quite misleading. I head the New England Team of the pro bono initiative of the American Society of Trial Consultants (ASTC). In this capacity, I have been running free clinics for criminal defense attorneys here in Massachusetts. I know that 3 of the 5 criminal defense lawyers who report having used a trial consultant are folks I have personally helped as part of this pro bono initiative. I would need a much larger, and geographically diverse, sample to know how common it is for criminal defense attorneys to use trial consultants.

By comparison, the data on graphics consultant usage should be more reliable.

Graphics Consultant Usage by Attorneys by Primary Practice Area

Civil Defense            Civil Plaintiff          Criminal Defense

The discrepancy between civil plaintiff and defense attorney resource usage is even more pronounced with respect to graphics consulting. A quarter of civil defense attorneys reported hiring a graphics consultant for more than 20% of their cases. By contrast, three-quarters of plaintiffs' lawyers report never having hired anyone to design or produce courtroom graphics.

The one young lawyer, who indicated that she uses trial and graphics consultants in more than half of her cases, handles both criminal and civil defense cases.

From What to Where

We have now discovered differences in consultant usage among lawyers who handle different types of cases. Civil defense lawyers make much more use of trial consultants and graphics consultants than do their less well financed colleagues. We also know that in some areas of tort law, the defense wins 90% of jury trials. It would be purely speculative to connect this success rate with use of trial and graphics consulting services, but it is suggestive enough to warrant further study.

Fortunately, with the exception of criminal defense attorneys, the lawyers who completed this survey are distributed throughout the country. This will provide me an opportunity to explore whether there are regional variations in trial and graphics consulting usage. I will have to be mindful, however, of the trends I have uncovered with respect to seniority and practice area. If the lawyers in one region seem to hire a lot of graphics consultants, I will need to make sure that it is not simply because they are all civil defense attorneys.

Finally, I wish to explore whether there are any systematic variations in the types of services for which attorneys hire consultants. Is it mostly for jury selection in one region and mock trials in another? Do certain types of attorneys hire consultants to help with witness preparation more than others? I will address these questions, along with geographic variations, in my next post.

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