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Survey defines jury trends

Today's juries are more balanced than ever before, according to a survey of juror questionnaires, community attitude polls, focus groups and post-verdict interviews spanning a five-year period.

The survey, which looks back at changes in jury behavior at the close of the century, suggests that jurors are less likely to identify themselves as liberal or conservative, opting instead for some middle ground. The research was conducted and compiled by Howard Varinsky Associates, an Emeryville, Calif.-based trial consulting firm with more than 10 years of national experience in jury selection and preparation.

"While major jury trends typically take many years to surface, this particular shift is very distinct and quite marked in recent years. Jurors are increasingly politically middle-of-the-road. Fewer people consider themselves staunch conservatives or ardent liberals," said Varinsky, founder and president of the firm.

"This middle ground makes the trial attorney's job of selecting a favorable jury tougher than ever, since political beliefs have always been an indicator of jurors' social and economic philosophies. It requires litigators to look beyond the labels and stereotypes and into the individual and his or her personal experiences and beliefs."

As the jury pool-at-large shifts, the survey found, many of the common ethnicity-based stereotypes or regional assumptions on which attorneys rely when selecting jurors are evolving as well. For example:

  • Asian-Americans are stereotypically thought to be defense jurors in civil cases; however, the stereotype is based on first and second generation Asian-Americans. As Asian-Americans assimilate, litigators must observe them more closely. Third and fourth generation Asian-Americans are proving to be less predictable, says the study.
  • African-Americans, particularly men, are stereotypically believed to be strong plaintiff jurors in civil cases; however, there are a growing percentage of more conservative, defense-oriented African-American male jurors.
  • In the Silicon Valley and other technology-dominated economies, jurors are increasingly socially liberal; however, these same "liberals" are quite fiscally conservative. Some of the most notable shifts in jury attitudes are seen in employment cases. Gone are the days when an employee expected to join a company and stay until retirement. The survey found that increased mobility, job-hopping and "down-sizing" have become a way of life for many in the nation's jury pool.
  • Jurors no longer feel that companies have a "duty" of lifetime employment to their employees.
  • Jurors, particularly those 35 and younger, are increasingly defense-oriented in their views – a shift from the heavy plaintiff-focus prevalent in the early 1990s.
  • The 35 and younger set also tend to be less hostile toward large corporations than in years past.

"The higher the salary, the more defense-oriented a juror becomes. In this age of self-made wealth and prosperity, we're finding that juries lean toward principles of personal responsibility first and foremost," Varinsky says. "People tend to be feeling less victimized, and while there are still plenty of large plaintiff awards, the jury pool has generally become more defense-oriented in most venues."

Changing juror profiles also are reshaping the practice of law. According to the Varinsky survey, since the early 1990s, jurors are:

  • Less likely to note that there is "too much litigation," a regular complaint lodged against the legal system during the last 10 – 15 years.
  • More respectful of attorneys, with an increasing number of jurors ranking lawyers and doctors equally in terms of the high-level professions.

Other major changes in juror attitudes revealed by the survey significantly impact attorneys' trial preparation. Among the highlights:

  • Today's jurors are inundated with sophisticated graphics via television, magazines, billboards, computers, and other media. The information technology revolution has transformed the way that information is communicated to juries at trial. All visuals or demonstrative evidence must be well thought out and professional in appearance. No trial presentation on a complex matter should be without demonstrative evidence, as jurors expect it. To omit this important tool could be detrimental to the case.
  • Similarly, jurors expect to see a "team" at the counsel table. While the population has always been fascinated by the legal system, the televised trial of O.J. Simpson, courtroom dramas and legal best sellers have popularized the roles of counsel, expert witnesses and trial consultants. The introduction of various specialists to handle information technology, graphics, and jury selection is accepted, and in many cases, even expected by jurors.

"The nature of trying cases is totally different today than even 10 short years ago. Generalists or the lone litigator who ran the show from voir dire through closing arguments regardless of the subject matter are nearly extinct. Litigators with distinct specialties, as well as a team of sub-specialists from the jury consultant to the technology pro, are commonplace and expected by jurors as part of the process," says Varinsky.

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