The consultant usually is some type of social scientist or has a specific expertise that can aid the attorney with help of the presentation of a case being tried in court. However, the entire field revolving around trial consulting is not specifically focused just on scientific psychology. It can include other social sciences as well as experience in communication, law, business, marketing, education, sales, law enforcement, military, and handwriting analysis. It often also involves working as a jury consultant in the selection of prospective jurors for a trial.
As a Jury Consultant
Generally, it is the job of a trial consultant to deduce which of the available prospective jurors will be the right decision to seek the best outcome for their client in the case (prosecutor or defendant, plaintiff or defendant). Usually, they will investigate, assess and evaluate which potential jurors have specific biases or prejudices against their client.
Usually, it is their job to decide which jurors offer the best psychological advantage to their client. Because of that, a trial consultant that works at selecting a jury needs to have a degree in psychology. They must be able to assess whether or not a juror is lying or is uncomfortable regarding specific certain subjects involved in the case. While this is a skill that can be learned, it is more an innate feeling that requires years of development.
As an Advisor
A trial consultant typically advises an attorney. They help with expert witnesses and their ability to be prepared to testify. The attorney has the ability to ask the trial consultant to research, consult, investigate, experiment, and advise, along with study, test, read, or actually perform some other duties or functions. Many times, these activities are used specifically to help determine the weaknesses and strengths of a case, and the attitudes required to make creative decision-making solutions to present the case at trial.
As an advisor, a trial consultant can help during mediation and arbitration or fully prepare the attorney to handle the case when it goes to trial. In addition, a trial consultant can perform mock trials, focus groups and even jury simulations in addition to their voir dire (trial procedures) consultations. They can help study change of venue alternatives and even perform community/profiling surveys while building the case.
Often times, research and analytical skills are necessary to accurately and successfully perform the job. Even though a trial consultant is never required to have any type of legal expertise, it is important to have a full understanding of how trial law works along with the basics of the judicial system.
Successful trial consultants often conduct research based on social science before the trial begins. The research often reveals how a potential juror would perceive the evidence in the case along with witnesses, the defendant, and how the case is presented. Many times, they will create a mock trial to understand the ins and outs of the case before actually presenting it in a court of law. This helps test out the case for its comprehension to a potential jury and how to build the case for appeal.
Generally, there are aspects that a trial consultant will cover to ensure that the case is ready for trial. These include:
- Minimizing confusion about aspects and evidence in the case
- Evaluating preconceived notions that jurors might have about the parties involved or issues in the case
- Understanding what questions the jury would have once the entire case is presented
- Understanding what issues the jury focuses on, ignores or discards
- Evaluating the believability and credibility of key witnesses
- Determining what the mock jurors believe are the weakest and strongest components of the evidence in the case
In addition to understanding how the jury will perceive the case through a mock trial, the trial consultant can also develop a story around the evidence. AmericanBar.org indicates that storytelling helps the attorney easily convey the message involved in describing the case. Good storytelling will assist the jury by defining the characters (defendant and witnesses) involved along with the context and background of all of the actions of the parties in the case.1
Generally speaking, trial consultants often arrive at their occupation from a huge array of educational backgrounds. Many have a bachelor’s degree, but some specialize in fields of psychology, criminology, behavioral sciences and even political science. Often times, attorneys seek out trial consultants that have a postgraduate degree.
Law firms typically higher trial consultants on a part-time or full-time basis. Some of them are actually staff members while others work independently as part of a large team, or in a small firm. Both the defense and prosecuting attorneys will hire jury or trial consultants long before the case ever makes it to trial.