A jury consultant works in cooperation with a lawyer during jury selection, during the actual trial, and possibly post trial as a commentator, or as a reviewer of the lawyer’s effectiveness with a jury. John Grisham’s novel The Runaway Jury incensed many in the profession by implying that someone in this job would commit any number of illegal actions, including round the clock surveillance of jurors and attempting to strong arm or buy verdicts.
An ethical jury consultant does not practice such illegal acts. Instead, he or she is usually a skilled observer of human behavior. Often, this person has a degree in behavioral science or psychology, and may also have a dual degree in law or criminal justice.
During the jury selection process, the jury consultant observes the responses of the potential jurors and can influence decisions about who would be most likely to return a favorable verdict for either the defending or prosecuting attorney. This person may also help the lawyer prepare questions for potential jurors.
Some generalizations about types of people are probably made. Things like race, socioeconomic background, life experience, and education level may make some potential jurors either less or more acceptable on a jury, depending upon which side the consultant is advising. For example, a criminal case involving an defendant who is accused of killing a police officer, would probably cause the jury consultant to advise the prosecuting attorney to pick a jury of people who had respect for or experience with law enforcement. Getting a cop on such a jury would be a major coup.
As well, during the voir dire process, where jurors are informed about the case and questioned as to their feelings that might cause undue prejudice, the jury consultant attempts to discern the legitimacy of the potential juror’s responses. Body language, like shifting in the seat or facial expressions may also be taken into account in an attempt to select the best possible jury.
During the trial, the consultant will continue to observe the jurors to see how effectively the attorney is conveying his view of the case in question. Jury consultants may influence the length of time someone testifies given his or her previous knowledge from voir dire. He or she may note when jurors seem emotional from testimony, or seem unaffected by testimony. As well, the person may look for any evidence of discomfort among the jurors that might lead to a hung jury causing a mistrial.
The jury consultant may then review the case with the trial lawyer after a verdict or decision is rendered to help the lawyer improve his performance in future trials. He or she may also suggest changes in closing statements that will “play” best with the jurors. Additionally, the consultant will probably render a decision to the lawyer whether the case will be won or lost after all testimony and statements have been presented.
The field of jury consulting is not an exact science and people are, by nature, unpredictable. Often one finds a jury consultant commenting on the likelihood of high profile cases being won or lost. Such predictions, when correct, can further the consultant's career. Frequently, multiple consultants will be found commenting on high profile cases with quite opposite opinions. Reading people, reading testimony, and rendering decisions is a somewhat risky business when there is no opportunity for the jury consultant to have direct contact with jurors.
Often, seasoned lawyers do not employ a jury consultant. Over time, trial lawyers can develop a good feel for potential jurors, and not employing one can save time and money. It is rare, however, to see big civil or criminal cases where a consultant is not employed by both sides.