Jury Selection Software
by Tom McNichol
New software applications promise to upgrade, if not revolutionize, an ancient art.
For all its obvious importance to trial lawyers, the art of jury selection has changed very little over the past hundred years. The tools of the trade are still, for the most part, paper, pen, and a keen knowledge of people. Many attorneys simply jot down their observations about potential jurors on the jury lists given to them by the court, cramming notes into small blanks and attaching fly-away Post-it notes to the sheet. Other attorneys sketch a crude jury box on a separate piece of paper, squeezing all the pertinent information about each juror inside a small square. Upon such rudimentary tools do lives and fortunes sometimes depend.
But several recent software products aspire to drag–and drop–jury selection into the 21st century.
A software package called JuryQuest aims to do for jury selection what online dating services do for singles–identify promising candidates and flag potentially problematic choices.
“What we do is similar to Match.com in that we use demographic data to give a trial attorney an overview of jurors who are potentially favorable or dangerous,” says Jeff Swanson, manager of JuryQuest. “It’s a filtering tool that pinpoints biases and preferences in a jury pool.”
Drawing on a database of well over 100,000 respondents to various verdict-related surveys, JuryQuest correlates information to identify how certain attitudes and opinions are distributed among the general population. The statistical analysis is based on the assumption that individuals of similar socioeconomic status tend to share many of the same values.
JuryQuest then uses statistical principles to profile jurors in a particular panel according to their demographic similarities to the respondents in the database. The software assigns each juror a profile score estimating their potential bias in the case, rating them on a numerical scale. Unfavorably ranked jurors are targeted for questioning in voir dire, so they can be removed for cause.
Customers in a number of states, including California, use JuryQuest, spending $500 to $10,000, depending on the complexity of the case and whether the software will be used once or for multiple matters. The company plans to roll out a Web-based version of the software over the next few months, so attorneys will be able to use it anywhere an Internet connection is available.
So far, reaction to JuryQuest has been somewhat mixed.
“Some attorneys aren’t that into jury statistics and tell us, ‘I don’t need that, I’ve been selecting juries for 30 years without a computer,’ ” says Swanson. “But the younger lawyers are more comfortable with technology and see it as a great tool.”
First Court, a North Dakota- and California-based jury research and consulting firm, is putting its own high-tech gloss on the traditionally low-tech world of jury selection and trial preparation. First Court stages mock jury trials by assembling prospective jurors in the jurisdiction where the case will be tried, providing each juror and lawyer with a touch-screen computer that links them through a special local area network. The jurors listen to live arguments from both sides of the case, and computer software instantly feeds their reactions to the lawyers’ computer screens. Attorneys can message each other electronically during the process and even press a “wow” button when a juror says something particularly noteworthy.
“Lawyers get instant feedback on what sort of notes jurors are taking, jurors’ reactions to specific questions, and what they think of particular witnesses in the case,” says attorney Mike Liffrig, president and trial manager of First Court. “We’ll ask jurors questions like, ‘Give us one word to describe the safety director of this company,’ and sometimes they’ll come back with words like greasy or slimeball, or company man. It’s very powerful to get that sort of blunt feedback.”
A full-day First Court trial with 18 jurors costs about $38,000; a scaled-down half-day roundtable procedure runs about $12,000. So far, First Court’s products have been well received-the company doubled its revenue in 2010 compared to the year before.
“Lawyers want to win, and this helps them win,” says Liffrig. “Picking a jury is 90 percent of your trial outcome.”
But sometimes a trial lawyer simply wants a little help with jury selection–without spending a big wad of cash. In that case, a new app for the iPad called iJuror may be just the ticket. It costs just $9.99.
iJuror aims to replace the traditional pen-and-legal-pad tools of jury tracking with a digital database of information about jurors that can be updated throughout a trial. No more notes scribbled on legal pads or sticky notes; instead, iJuror lets lawyers track juror patterns electronically.
To view or add juror information as the trial goes along, attorneys tap on seats displayed on the touch screen in a virtual jury box. Lawyers can drag and drop seats to choose or dismiss jurors; the system can be configured to handle up to 60 jurors. The jury database can be emailed to any address and is stored in one location on the user’s system so long-term trends can be tracked and analyzed.
Perhaps the main potential drawback to iJuror and similar electronic jury-selection aids is that they force attorneys to look more at their computer screens and less at the actual people they’re trying to evaluate. Which is why apps like that probably work best in the hands of an assistant, freeing up the lead counsel to observe facial responses and other flesh-and-blood cues.
Any way you look at it, though, the art of picking a jury is long overdue for an upgrade. And as for those Post-it notes: Isn’t it about time you dismissed them for cause?.