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Monday, March 08, 2010

Trial Consultant Usage All Over the Map

The Survey at a Glance

Several weeks ago, I was in conversation with a colleague about the different approaches taken by various lawyers with respect to using trial consulting services. Some lawyers don't see any use for our expertise, or believe that their clients just can't afford to use us. Some lawyers employ the occasional consultant to run jury research, but really want a project manager more than an expert in jury behavior. There are many lawyers who will call in a trial consultant for the occasional case when she experiences uncertainty regarding a particular jury issue. Finally, there are a handful of lawyers who work with a trial consultant on virtually every case, finding their expertise to be well-worth the investment.

I commented, rather off-handedly, that I thought there were probably lots of regional differences. I think that differences in procedural rules (e.g. attorney conducted voir dire, ad damnum usage) and legal culture result in their being jurisdictions where litigators make great use of trial consulting services and others where attorneys rarely hire trial consultants.

I soon realized that this was a testable hypothesis. So, I went off to and crafted a short survey to investigate which litigators hire trial consultants (and courtroom graphics consultants) and which ones don't. I included questions about how long each respondent has been a lawyer, what kind of cases she handles, and where her office is located.

The survey is still live and I will be analyzing the data long into the future. So, if you are a trial lawyer, and you have not yet filled out the survey, please do so here. It only takes about 2 minutes and it is completely anonymous.

Spreading the Word

As many of you know, I am extremely active on LinkedIn. I posted a notice about the survey as a discussion on many of the groups to which I belong. I also tweeted an invitation to participate on several occasions. Finally, I sent out an email to everyone on my professional distribution list (formerly used for my newsletter, before it became this blog). I would conservatively estimate that at least one invitation to participate was seen by over 500 litigators.

Well, I wasn't offering to pay respondents. I wasn't raffling off an iPod or a timeshare in Maui. Lawyers are used to billing clients for every 6 minutes of their time and they are extremely sensitive to concerns about online privacy. So, the response rate was not great.

As of today, 37 people have completed the survey. Of these, 5 indicated that they were not lawyers (although a few might work for law firms in some other capacity). 28 of the respondents indicated that they heard about the survey on LinkedIn. 8 found out through email, and 1 via Twitter. Needless to say, any conclusions to be drawn from such a small sample will be speculative in nature. I do hope, however, that the results will give us something to build upon in the future.

Preliminary Results: Trial Consulting

I was careful in the survey to differentiate between "Trial Consulting" services, which deal with the social psychology of jury behavior (jury selection, witness preparation, focus group studies, etc.) and "Trial Graphics" services, which include illustrations and animations for courtroom use. Here is a graph illustrating the frequency with which survey respondents employ "Trial Consulting" services, in terms of percentage of cases.

Trial Consulting Service Usage: Full Sample

As you can see from the figure, very few attorneys indicated that they used trial consultants for more than 20% of their cases. The interesting distinction here seems to be between those litigators who sometimes use trial consultants and those that never do. For my sample, approximately 60% of respondents indicated they had ever used a trial consultant. 

There are a couple of reasons to be skeptical of these numbers. First, I would expect that participating in the survey would be more interesting to those lawyers with some familiarity with trial consulting. As such, I thought that most of the respondents would be lawyers who had worked with trial consultants in the past. Second, the publication of the survey was heavily skewed towards people who know me in some capacity. Of those, I would expect that my clients would be particularly inclined to help me out by filling out the survey. (Based on zip codes and other survey responses, I am fairly sure that about a half-dozen respondents are, in fact, clients of mine.) In light of these factors, I believe that these results probably overestimate trial consultant usage in the general population.

I am located in Massachusetts and most of my clients are from New England. This is reflected in the large number of respondents from this region (9). That said, it is gratifying to see that the remainder of the respondents come from all over the United States. I will be discussing regional variations in the data in my next post.

Preliminary Results: Graphics Consulting

I am what I refer to as a "behavioral" trial consultant. While I advise clients on the kinds of exhibits they might employ at trial, and evaluate the utility of the graphs and illustrations they already have, I do not provide trial graphics services. As such, the responses with respect to graphics consulting are probably less skewed by the participation of my own clients. The graph below shows graphics consulting usage for the complete sample.

Graphics Consulting Service Usage: Full Sample

About half of the survey's respondents have used a graphics consultant for at least one case. I think that most of us would expect trial graphics to be used more frequently than trial consulting. The discrepancy between this expectation and my data undoubtedly arises from the participation of many of my clients. Several of these attorneys, especially those doing criminal defense work, have benefitted from my active pro bono practice. They have not had similar access to affordable trial graphics assistance.

Do the Same Lawyers use Both Services?

As I mention above, there is reason to believe that at least a handful of attorneys would make use of trial consulting services, but not graphics consulting ones. Is this a common occurrence? The graph below answers this question.

Joint Usage of Trial and Graphics Consulting Services

As a general rule, lawyers either use litigation consulting services of both types, or they don't use either. Only a few litigators reported using graphics consultants but not trial consultants. I find this result a bit surprising. While I did not ask respondents about the size of their firms, I would expect that this sample is heavily weighted towards small and mid-sized firms, whose attorneys tend to be heavier users of LinkedIn. Lawyers from large firms (many hundreds of lawyers) are unlikely to have found their way to my survey. Such firms handle huge IP and business litigation cases, in which courtroom exhibits are sophisticated and plentiful. The underrepresentation of such litigators from my sample have certainly affected the nature of my results.

Questions to be Explored

These preliminary results are certainly interesting. We have responses from many attorneys who have used a trial or graphics consultant to help with jury trials. Who are they? What kind of work do they do? Where do they practice? These are the more nuanced questions that I will be addressing in my next two posts.

In addition to surveying experience with consultants, I asked respondents about which kinds of services they had hired consultants to perform. I provided an extensive list, including jury selection, witness preparation, illustrations, animations and more. I will explore in a future post trends in the data, with respect to which trial lawyers made use of which services.

So, stay tuned! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

And remember, it's not too late to contribute your own experience to the data. Take the survey here.

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