What is a Trial Consultant?

The O.J. Simpson case in 1995 focused the public attention on the role of Trial Consultant for the first time. A New York Times article said that the defense team had hired a jury consultant named Joe-Ellan Dimitrius to help select jurors who would be favorable to the case. The article went on to say that it was believed the prosecution had hired a consultant as well. This was news; trial lawyers seldom hired consultants back then. That has changed, though, as the existence of several associations for the experts as well as a hit TV drama about the profession prove.

What is Trial Consulting?

A definition found in an online psychology dictionary says a consultant is a “social scientist who helps lawyers with many different aspects of a trial wherein their expertise is pertinent.” Also called a jury consultant, this professional has a background in sociology, psychology or anthropology and may use a focal issue different from his peers. Some consultants believe that jury selection is of prime importance while others work on case presentation or witness preparation.

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What Do They Do?

Ms. Dimitrius studied the backgrounds of potential jurors and developed a series of questions that should be asked of them. She watched their body language and listened to their comments during the questioning to determine which of them would be more sympathetic to Simpson’s case.

Helping lawyers select jurors, or decide which to exclude, is a role a consultant would fill. He or she also helps prepare witnesses for court appearances. That includes everything from demeanor to the way a witness, including the defendant, appears, helping them anticipate the opposition questions and other issues.

The consulting professional might use a focus group and/or a mock trial to arrive at his suggestions. The focus group is made up of many individuals whose reactions to questions and aspects of the case are noted, and who are allowed to give their input into the presentation. A mock trial uses people who approximate the potential jurors in personality and background. The attorney’s staff portrays the defense and the prosecution and the each acting juror’s reaction is studied to decide whether the real juror would be sympathetic to the case or should be excused.

After a mock trial, the consultant may also bring in a focus group to discuss why the mock jurors reacted as they did. The information from the mock trial or the focus group is used to strategize trial presentation as well. For instance, would it be better to introduce the defendant for testimony early in the trial or to focus on relevant issues first?

What is the Job Outlook for Jury Consultants?

The retention of the consultant in the Simpson case was a news-maker because it was an unusual tack to take. Today, jury consultants are routinely used in high-profile cases. They are not inexpensive. Mock trials may cost $60,000 and an electronic presentation might have a price tag of more than $125,000. Generally, the consultants have teams, or “firms” just as lawyers do, and people have different jobs within the team. Assistant researchers may get a job with a bachelor’s degree and earn an average salary of $40,000, but consultants with doctoral degrees and experience may command salaries of $500,000.

The use of a consultant may have helped the defense team win acquittal for O.J. Simpson. While smaller cases may not be able to afford the services of the consultant, they can use some of them same strategies in selecting a jury and in preparing trial strategies. A Professional Trial Consultant, however, has the education, critical reasoning skills and expertise that could make the difference in trial outcome.