A Close Look at the Logistics of Online Mock Trials

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In the early months of the pandemic, most of our clients chose to postpone their mock trials and focus groups to later dates when it would be possible to conduct them in person. After all, it was unclear when the courts would open and when trials might resume. Much has changed since then. Several trial venues have adopted hybrid approaches to trial where jury selection is conducted online while the trial is conducted in-person. Some parties have agreed to conduct entire trials online. In December, a federal judge ordered a remote jury trial over the objections of one of the parties.

In recent weeks, we have been hearing from more and more clients that judges around the country are pushing upcoming trial dates despite ongoing lockdown orders, with some hinting that they might follow in the footsteps of the federal judge and order a remote jury trial. This has put our clients the position of needing jury research, but uncertain how to conduct it, and uncertain about whether or not they even want to consider an online mock trial.

Based on several discussions I have had with clients, part of the problem is that online mock trials are a foreign concept to many. They have no idea what to expect and the idea just does not sound right to them. While we have successfully conducted several online research projects for clients that have felt comfortable going forward in that manner, we have found others are still a bit apprehensive. With that in mind, the goal of this week’s blog is to discuss the value of online jury research and highlight the logistics of them to give attorneys a better picture of what they can expect with online jury research.

The online platform. There are a variety of videoconferencing platforms available for online jury research. We have had a lot of success with Zoom Webinar. Zoom Webinar functions a lot like the Zoom meetings that many are used to, but it also allows authorized individuals to watch live discussions without participating or appearing in the Zoom window.

The project format. An online mock trial is essentially structured the same as an in-person mock trial. The mock jurors watch pre-recorded presentations from each side, complete a series of questionnaires, and deliberate to a verdict. After their deliberations, the consultant assigned to each jury room conducts a post-deliberation interview to dive deeper into the mock jurors’ thoughts and opinions in the case. The only difference is that we tend to break the project up into a two-day format where the mock jurors watch the presentations on the first day and deliberate on the second day. We have found this helps minimize the impact of any technical difficulties on the overall project schedule, helps keep the deliberation portion of the schedule running on time (which helps with the schedules of attorneys or others who are observing), and helps lessen Zoom fatigue.

Facilitation and tech assistance. Each online mock jury deliberation room has a consultant and a tech assistant assigned to it. The consultant oversees the group to make sure they are doing what they need to do, and our tech assistants handle any tech issues that might arise, which are rare in our experience.

The case presentations. The presentation structure is the same as with in-person mock trials. The mock jurors watch a detailed plaintiff presentation, followed by a defense presentation, followed by a brief rebuttal. We use Zoom Webinar to record attorney presentations in advance of the project. After the initial recording, our videographer takes it to post-production where he cleans everything up and adds exhibits, demonstratives, clips of depo testimony, and more.

The mock trial exhibits. Due to confidentiality concerns, we do not provide the mock jurors with any downloadable materials, which means they do not receive a copy of the exhibits for their deliberations. However, our techs and consultants in each online jury room have copies of all exhibits and can show them on the screen during deliberations at any time so clients can still hear a rich discussion about key exhibits.

Mock juror engagement. Contrary to what you might assume, mock jurors are very engaged with online mock trials. In fact, our anecdotal evidence suggests that participation from the comfort of their own home creates a comfort level that increases engagement. The feedback that we have received has been outstanding. However, attorneys should consider whether or not their case is appropriate for an online mock trial format and what adjustments might be necessary. For example, incredibly complex cases with lots of exhibits may require a fair amount of deviation from the typical format.

Advance tech checks. It is very important to reduce the number of potential tech issues that might arise and cause delays with the project. Consequently, our staff conducts Zoom tech checks with every mock juror in the days prior to the mock trial to ensure the mock juror knows how to use Zoom and can do so without difficulty.

All mock jurors sign confidentiality agreements. They do not receive any physical materials and cannot download the case presentations that they watch through a secure site.

Remote Client Viewing. One of the great qualities of Zoom Webinar is that it allows our clients to login and watch the deliberations live without appearing on the screen or having any kind of presence that is obvious to the mock jurors. This allows clients to watch the presentations and deliberations from the comfort of their own homes and offices. At the conclusion of each mock trial, we set up a separate Zoom meeting between the client and our consultants to discuss the major findings of the day while they are still fresh.

 

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