I’ve written about the importance of focus studies and how to conduct them for more accurate feed back information. I’ve recently conducted three "informal" focus studies. That is, these are ones where the group is arranged by a service, the meeting is in our building in a conference room and we arrange the study on an inexpensive and informal basis. I recommend How to do Your Own Jury Research by David Ball with Debra Miller and Artemis Malekpour. Published by Trial Guides http://www.trialguides.com/iwin/ball-focusgroups.php)for an excellent book on this subject.
Here’s my own approach to this kind of a study. I start with an introduction to make sure everyone knows what is going to happen and why the study is important. I cover the following points:
Introduce people I identify everyone there including the paralegal. However, I do not tell them I am a lawyer or which side I represent because that can influence the responses. In the last session the group thought I worked for a survey company because they said I was objective about how I conducted the study.
Video Tape If I am video tapping the session I explain that it is being done so we can later watch it for more study
Real Case I make it clear this involves a real case and real people. The decisions and opinions are very important because it will influence what is done with the case. Decisions will be based on their statements and opinions
Honesty I emphasize that it is important to be totally honest about initial reactions and views.
Confidentiality I explain why confidentiality is important because they might inadvertently say something to a prospective juror in case without knowing it which would impact the jury pool and trial.
Procedure Wewill present information about the case in written form in order that we provide the important information. We will read it to them
The video impression sheet is very simple. It says: Impression: ( ) very good ( ) good ( ) average ( ) below average ( ) bad Reason and blank lines to fill in.
The verdict form begins by a ranking as to strength of their decision. For example, here is an opening question from a recent study: Was defendant University of Washington negligent?
___ Absolutely yes___ Probably yes___ Probably not___ Absolutely not
They then give their verdict. The same technique is used on damages. The first question is how they rank the damages. Here’s an example: As a general evaluation, what size of verdict is appropriate in this case for plaintiff Joe Smith?
___ Nothing___ A very small amount___ More than a small amount___ A large amount ___ A very large amount
This is followed by a request for a specific dollar amount. This verdict would also ask them to fix percentages of fault for people and ask if there is anyone not named they think is at fault.
This kind of simple procedure is very helpful for general evaluation of a case. It is not perfect and it is not scientific but it is great improvement over asking your lawyer friends what they think of your case