Focus groups are a powerful method used in law to get a better understanding of how a sample of the public will view a specific case. Focus groups can provide attorneys with invaluable qualitative data regarding the strengths and weaknesses of both sides’ arguments as well as possible ranges for compensation.
The typical law focus group roughly follows this seven-step process.
- Preparation of the actual focus group. This step includes organizing narratives, documents, and facts and designating moderators for the focus group.
- Creation of incentives for participation and soliciting and gathering participants for the focus group.
- Organizing the physical aspects of the focus group including the venue, the date and time, the technology, the layout, and the presentation materials.
- Conducting the actual focus group.
- Organizing the data, preparing the measures, qualitative results, and video/audio for analysis.
- The actual analysis of the focus group results.
- Development and implementation of changes to the case presentation, fact wording and framing, theme and story development, trial strategy, and other aspects of the case. Once changed, these steps can be repeated until these elements are deemed satisfactory by the focus group creator.
Best Practices Not Found in Typical Law Focus Groups
As discussed by Ryals D. Stone 1 and other trial researchers, there are best practices for conducting focus groups that are often ignored in most cases. Two of the most important best practices are using multiple types of samples and properly screening the participants.
Multiple types of samples mean that multiple, well-screened focus groups can allow attorneys to get the viewpoints of specific types of jurors, such as conservative jurors, liberal jurors, and a mixture of the two. However, this does not mean that large quantities of focus groups are needed. A recent study by Guest and colleagues* shows that only three focus groups can result in upwards of 80 percent of the total information from the respondents. There is only a diminutive increase when using more than three focus groups and likely results in an increase in error leading to wasted money and time.
Properly screening the participants means making sure they are reliable, provide valid responses, and are representative of the specific population of interest.. The respondents need to be gathered from the specific population the case is occurring in. General population samples, from online sources such as Amazon MTurk, are not representative of the specific population of interest 2. MTurk is very limited in that it can only filter respondents by state and not county, its samples have been found to lack older adults 2, and its respondents have been found to have weaker performance in the law research 3. The screening measures for these participants need to be well-written and gather both qualitative and quantitative information. These types of screening measures need to be developed by professional behavioral scientists to ensure the validity and reliability of the content being measured.
Additionally, focus groups work best in informal settings. Respondents are more likely to give their true opinions in a more relaxed setting of an informal focus group. Otherwise, you risk suppressing biases and experience behavior such as, “the bandwagon effect” — where individuals follow the opinions and actions of others or “the courtesy bias” — where individuals suppress their opinion to adopt a more acceptable one in the specific situation, and other biases like these.
It’s tactics like these that make virtual meetings ideally suited for this method of research. Ultimately, creating focus groups is intricate and difficult. Constructing these groups becomes exponentially harder when following the field’s best practices. This is where our focus group department can be of great assistance. We are trained in these best practices and have empirical support behind the techniques and tactics we use in our live virtual focus groups.
How Our Approach Adds Value
Representative Sample. To create the best surrogate juror pool, jurors must be screened and selected efficiently (Stone). We can recruit a large number of potential surrogate jurors, and properly screen them such as making sure (1) there are only high-quality jurors, (2) there are no repeat participants, (3) all jurors are “jury ready” (e.g. eligible to vote, not a felon, etc.), and (4) there will be backup jurors to make sure the number of jurors in each group is consistent. We know that group dynamics change depending on the size of the mock jury/focus group, therefore the number of participants must be consistent to avoid errors from different group sizes. Do not rely on people recruited from Craig’s List or an unemployment agency, they are much less likely to represent community members in your jurisdiction.
Demographic Profile. Not only do we screen participants for qualifications, but we match the demographics of our mock jury/focus group pool with those of your case’s county jurisdiction. We make sure the group is diverse and that a wide range of individuals can respond to the questioning, which results in higher quality responses and more accurate predictions. Recruiting participants from typical sources like Craig’s List and unemployment agencies are likely to result in a skewed sample that is too old or too young or lacking racial diversity. Additionally, these types of participants tend to be too experienced in these types of focus groups, which leads to results that do not generalize to the inexperienced nature of real-life jury members. Our sampling methods have greater reach to select a group that represents your venue as well as provides high-quality responses to all the case-related questions.
Personality and Unconscious Biases. Through our research approach, we are able to gain information that in-person focus groups, conducted by law firms, are unable to get. We record all participants’ videos during their virtual live focus group. We then analyze the video to examine facial expressions of emotion including happiness, sadness, anger, fear, worry, surprise, disgust, and contempt. We can pinpoint exactly when a participant makes an expression showing anger or disgust or surprise, which is used to inform how you present your case data to maximize jurors’ favorability toward your client. In addition to video recording each juror during the live virtual focus group, we also record a transcript of the discussion. We then analyze the conversations with linguistic analysis, which provides a more in-depth insight into what jurors are feeling and thinking while they are discussing the case. The linguistic analysis provides information on emotions, motivations, and cognitive processes, providing far more information than what is stated on the surface.
Objective Behavioral Scientists as Moderators. Although attorneys are skilled at questioning, they are not neutral, objective moderators when conducting focus groups for their own cases (National Trial Lawyers). Subtle facial expressions or tone of voice can cue participants to the attorney’s perspective and bias their responses to “please” the attorney or the person who is paying them for their participation. Instead, we use experts in human behavior who are highly skilled in conducting objective interviews with participants to avoid unconsciously influencing responses. Our senior analysts hold graduate degrees in psychology and social science fields and will conduct the focus groups from the planning stage to the data analysis and reporting stage.
Save Valuable Case Preparation Time. It is difficult and time-consuming to create a focus group and implement it well. It is estimated to take at least 30 days to recruit and form a focus group and 60 to 80 hours for attorneys and 40 hours for staff to conduct an effective focus group session (National Trial Lawyers). If you count these as billable case hours, this amounts to hundreds to thousands of dollars in costs to conduct efficient focus groups. Save time and money and leave it to the experts.
Multiple Focus Groups. We have the ability to conduct multiple focus groups in a short period of time. More focus groups mean more accurate data. As stated before, keeping the number of jurors in a focus group consistent is of the utmost importance. Having multiple experienced behavioral scientists that can moderate multiple focus groups allows us to keep the jury size consistent while also conducting these focus groups in a short period of time if necessary. Multiple focus groups can allow for more robust analyses and stronger predictions of real-life jury results, which in turn helps you build a stronger case.
Output. We provide you with an array of data to make decisions about how you will frame your case, how you will form your opening and closing arguments, and how you will select your jury. We will provide a written report and presentation on how jurors responded to each critical fact in your case, what verbal responses were given during the group discussion and private written responses that we secured before the group discussion. In addition, we combine facial and linguistic analyses with the private and public responses about the case to create a personality profile of your ideal juror. These focus groups will better prepare you to present your case in the most effective manner. You will also have an easier time selecting the best jurors for your case.
Though not a new tactic in the field of law, focus groups are often misunderstood and poorly implemented mechanisms. There has been a large amount of research on focus groups in many fields of social and behavioral science that helps create strict and precise guidelines for the implementation of focus groups. Following these guidelines and best practices is not easy, but our well-trained and highly educated behavioral scientists ensure proper implementation of these guidelines and best practices in all of our focus groups. This, along with state-of-the-art behavioral and psycho-graphic technology and techniques, helps us ensure that our results are the most accurate and reliable in our field.
Ryals D. Stone with Verdict: the Journal of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association
Guest, G., Namey, E., & McKenna, K. (2017). How many focus groups are enough? building an evidence base for nonprobability sample sizes. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications. doi:10.1177/1525822X16639015
Kimball, S. H. (2019). Surve data collection; online panel efficacy. A comparative study of amazon MTurk and research now SSI/ survey monkey/ opinion access. Journal of Business Diversity, 19(2), 16-45. doi:10.33423/jbd.v19i2.2054
Robertson, A. Z., & Yoon, A. H. (2019). You get what you pay for: An empirical examination of the use of MTurk in legal scholarship. Vanderbilt Law Review, 72(5), 1633-1674.