Using Focus Groups
Do I Need to Use a Trial Consultant and Do Focus Groups?It is best to know the answer to this question before trial, rather than after you lose. There are several reasons to use a trial consultant and run focus groups and many of these will be addressed in this paper. Generally speaking, trial consultants should be used in the following situations:
o You have a really big case
o You have a really rich client
o When you need to discover common issues and themes in your cases
o To discover the landmines that will sink your case
o To discover the fixes to the landmines
o In the early stages of the development of your case, such as before discovery is closed or prior to the key depositions of the opposing witnesses
What are Focus Groups Anyways?Focus groups are basically a form of market research, a technique that has been used by major corporations for many years. Before a new toothpaste is put on the market, before a new car is rolled out, before a studio releases a major new movie, they conduct focus groups of consumers. Trial consultants do the same thing, using "consumers" as surrogate jurors. They use these focus groups to conduct pre-suit and pre-trial research and discovery.
Why Do Lawyers Use Focus Groups?Focus groups are extremely useful in many respects. First and foremost, preparing for the focus group itself forces the lawyer to learn the case inside and out. In order to present an effective focus group, we must know the facts of the case, both the good and the bad. By reviewing the file, we learn the case.
Second, it forces us to organize the file. Sometimes files assume a "life of their own" and it is not the life we want for the file. By preparing for the focus group, we organize the file and make sure logistically it is under control.
Third, it helps us prepare. Prepare for discovery, prepare for settlement discussions and ultimately prepare for trial.
How Do Focus Groups Help?Focus groups help in many ways. They help identify important issues in the case. We as lawyers often believe that certain issues are important, when in fact they are not. There is "lawyer proof" and then there is "juror proof." Lawyers often overlook issues that we think are unimportant or that we don't even think of, or put undue emphasis on what we think is important, "lawyer proof", as opposed to what is important to the jury, "juror proof." We can use focus groups to identify what is and is not important to the jurors who will hear the case. They help identify new ideas, good ideas and bad ideas in the approach of the case. They are also important in helping us establish the theme or themes of the case. Oftentimes, they help identify what we can and will use as exhibits in trial.
What Are the Different Types of Focus Groups?There are many different types of focus groups that can be utilized. They include concept groups, structured groups, split groups and summary/mock trials. Regardless of which is used, these types of groups provide analysis of the facts and the case, allow us as lawyers to test for and discover bias and allow us to practice various types of persuasion.
What Do We Expect to Accomplish by Use of Focus Groups?Themes and Strategies for Trial
Lawyers and trial consultants have studied individuals, groups, and social psychology as it applies to jury behavior for years. Focus groups can assist in designing effective themes, as listening to the participants' thoughts allows us to develop effectives that will resonate with the jury.
Evaluate Strengths and Weaknesses
This is an invaluable function of focus groups. We often think we know our strengths and weaknesses but focus groups do just that, they focus us on the strengths and weaknesses of our case. Many times, we have blinders on, and we are oblivious to bias. We can easily lose sight of the big picture and what is important once we have committed, physically and emotionally, to the case. Focus groups can provide a fresh and different perspective with what we think are our strengths and weaknesses in the case.
So, How Much Does it Cost?As indicated, the ideal focus group is 3 hours, but they can run as long as a day or two. A good rule of thumb is $75.00/participant for a three hour session, along with snacks such as sandwiches, coffee, soft drinks and the such. They can be in house or outside. If done outside, there is generally a recruitment fee, an administrative fee and a facility fee. In reality, the most effective focus groups are those where the participants do not know which side you are on, as the best and purest information occurs when the participants aren't trying to please or appease one side or another.
A focus group can be done for under $1000.00. We have done them easily for $500.00, doing them in-house, paying $50 per participant, providing snacks and sandwiches and doing our own taping. The quality is in the product and result, not necessarily in the process.
Final Thoughts1. Present Strong Opposition
2. Don't have your client at the focus group
2. Test Key Documents and graphics
4. Don't disclose which side you are on
5. Confront Biggest Problems
6. Video Tape All Discussions
7. Listen, Listen, Listen
AND THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
IN A FOCUS GROUP:
o Prepare the other side so well that you LOSE