All of the educated guesswork in the world is no substitute for seeing and hearing how a live audience, specifically enlisted for the purpose, responds to your case. At Jonathan Leach, LLC, focus groups are an important tool for providing our clients with a variety of useful insights.
Although no tool can predict with 100% certainty how a jury will react, focus-group testing can eliminate some of the uncertainty of litigation. It can help clients understand the potential settlement value of a case. Perhaps most importantly, it can highlight for the trial team, early in the preparation stage, the particular strengths and vulnerabilities of their case, as identified by actual residents of the venue.
What is a Focus Group?
Focus groups are research projects for gathering the impressions and opinions of people in response to particular products, services, or issues. They are regularly used in all kinds of industries, from the retail and food industries to the worlds of film and music, as well as in political campaigns. Very few movie studios or consumer-goods manufacturers will risk launching a new product without first subjecting it to extensive focus-group testing. Election campaigns for even the lowest-level political offices rely heavily on focus groups. Generally speaking, a focus-group panel consists of people who are representative of a particular community. A moderator introduces the group to the product, service, political candidate, or issue being tested. The moderator then elicits from the group their candid impressions or opinions of the matter being tested. In litigation consulting, focus groups have been used for decades as a way to test various aspects of an actual case. (Viewers of the popular Netflix documentary The Staircase may recall that the testimony and opinions of forensic scientists were tested extensively in front of North Carolina focus groups.) In the typical scenario, Jonathan Leach, LLC, randomly selects a panel of research participants who represent a target population–for example, jury-eligible residents of the federal Western District of Texas–and then presents to that audience a streamlined, simplified version of the issues in the case. Having heard a high-level presentation of the issues and evidence, participants respond. They express their impressions, opinions, and concerns. They are invited to ask questions of their own. Participants’ responses are carefully documented and become important data for the next stage of case preparation.
Focus-group testing tends to follow one of two formats: concept groups and structured groups.
- Concept groups follow a less structured, more free-form format and allow the consultant and trial team to conceptualize and test possible case themes on the basis of what participants themselves say. Concept focus groups are best conducted early in the trial-prep process.
- Structured groups are more formal in design, often focusing on a particular group of witnesses, a particular piece of evidence, or a particular issue. Responses can help the trial team fine-tune their case presentation well before the actual trial.
What to Expect
Focus-group design is inherently flexible, but a typical format is as follows:
- Each party gives a summary presentation.
- Research participants give their personal comments, opinions, attitudes, and emotions.
- The moderator (Jonathan Leach, LLC) follows up with additional discussion prompts, seeking new insights and recognizing that even what appear to be off-task remarks may be valuable.
- After a thorough group discussion, participants are dismissed.
- Responses are documented, analyzed, and discussed with the client in a post-project debriefing.
- Strategic recommendations are developed for the next phase of the litigation.
It is not uncommon for our clients to test their case presentations with more than one group, allowing test conditions to change. For example, one group may hear and respond to different witnesses, trial graphics, or themes than were presented to another group. New trial strategies or alternative versions of a strategy can be subjected to a dry run before the trial team commits to the approach that will guide the next steps toward trial.
How it Can Help You
A focus group offers you, the litigator or client, an enlightening look at how actual jurors are likely to problem-solve the issues in your case. Depending on the project design, your focus group might emphasize (for example) issues of liability or causation more than it focuses on damages. Alternatively, where liability appears more certain, the focus group might zero in on jurors’ likely assessment of monetary damages. More generally, focus-group testing offers a streamlined, relatively low-cost method of understanding how the jury may react to particular components of the case. In turn, it can enhance the efficiency of subsequent trial preparations.
Contact Us Today!
The effective use of focus groups requires skilled leadership, professionalism, and detachment. Members must be carefully selected, and the moderator must maintain a clear understanding of the project’s methods and objectives. A trial consultant can dramatically help you improve the value to be gained from focus groups. Call Jonathan Leach, LLC, today to learn more about our services.