Focus groups are worth every penny in fleshing the questions that a real jury will ask about your case
What is a focus group? A focus group is a pretrial research in which information about a case is given to a group of people selected to represent the jury-eligible population of the trial venue. Discussions, written questionnaires, mock deliberations, or some combination of all three are used to gather the opinions of the laypersons about the case.
Focus groups show how different kinds of jurors are likely to react to and interact with the issues, arguments, evidence, exhibits and personalities of a given case. Focus groups provide a reality check: are jurors going to support the case, or reject it? How will the jurors support your case and how will they reject it? And most importantly, what can you do about it.
Focus groups show you in advance of trial what you need to present at trial, and the process of putting on a focus group forces the lawyer to organize the case. When you have focus groups, you learn more about how jurors perceive what they see and hear in court, and how they arrive at decisions individually and then as a group.
Based on the feedback of the focus group, you will have new ideas for how to present the case and learn the kinds of questions jurors have about the case. Perhaps most importantly, you will learn the types of questions that jurors ask and the what they want to know. You will learn what strategies are likely to work, and which are likely to backfire.
When I present a focus group, I prefer to limit the issue for the group's deliberation to a very narrow issue. For example, if there is a crucial video showing an accident reconstruction, I might show the video animation to the focus group and ask them to pick it apart. What are the flaws of the video showing the reconstruction of the accident? How does the videotape help the focus group reach its conclusion as to whether the defendant was negligent. Most importantly, how would the focus group improve the videotape.
As lawyers, we sometimes view our cases with rose-colored lenses. You don't want that. You want the focus group to pick your case apart and tell you why you will lose. This is the biggest benefit of a focus group. It is better to learn the bad things about a case at a focus group than at trial.
The investment of $500 in a focus group may be the best expense of money you have ever made for a client and your client's case.