The legal profession has been using mock trials for years. Fictional courtroom re-creations, mock trials can be based on real cases or they can be entirely hypothetical. Over the years, mock trials have been an important tool in the legal education process. Their use can be traced back to 14th century Great Britain, where they were a necessary training tool for lawyers. Before an individual could be “called to the bar,” they had to show their legal knowledge and proficiency at trial in a mock court or trial setting.
Today, mock trials provide attorneys with the opportunity to “test the market” before taking a case to trial. The critical information provided by mock trials on how potential jurors view cases is invaluable for lawyers, as it shows them which kinds of arguments jurors find most persuasive.
Mock Trials at GOLDLAW
Like most firms, GOLDLAW has used mock trials to get a gauge on juries and strategy before stepping into a courtroom. Generally, they were organized and staged by professional companies. In many cases, state-of-the-art technologies came as part of the package. However, these trials and the associated technological features that were included came at a considerable expense. So, because this cost is passed on to the client, their use was limited to “big” cases, where a significant jury verdict or settlement was expected.
GOLDLAW Takes Mock Trials In-House
Earlier this month, GOLDLAW held its first in-house mock trial, with a variety of staff serving as the jurors. Organized by Director of Litigation Spencer Kuvin, the reason for getting non-attorney GOLDLAW staff involved was simple.
“By doing mock trials, my hope was non-attorney staff would see the overall picture, and what their work is actually doing.” Kuvin was quick to point out that although it’s the firm’s attorneys that represent clients, present their cases, and advocate for them, attorneys generally do not start the process.
“In a personal injury firm, it’s marketing who creates many of the materials that a potential client may see initially, whether it’s a printed flyer, a blog entry on the website, or a description of what the firm has accomplished. Marketing establishes client interest. From there, the client specialists in the intake department talk to interested parties, and are responsible for getting them to sign a contract. But, after that, the process moves to pre-suit, and in most cases, the marketing staff may never see the case again.”
How Do Mock Trials Help Attorneys?
Mock trials can help attorneys in a variety of ways. First, they provide an unbiased evaluation of the case. Lawyers, – especially personal injury lawyers – will tell you that they are “advocates” for their clients. This means they often become emotionally involved, tend to have a myopic view of cases, and have a difficult time being objective. Going through a mock trial, and listening to what jurors have to say can provide them with a needed reality check, as to both the extent of liability parties may have, and the damages they can expect a jury to award.
Attorneys can also evaluate if juries understand case themes and accept their arguments through a mock trial. In the case where a jury is having a hard time buying a particular argument, it may help the attorney refocus and identify which themes have the most positive impact on jurors, and which ones should be rejected.
Because they need to maintain a level of objectivity, mock trials can also help lawyers as a settlement tool. Jurors will indicate if they think an attorney is asking for too much/too little when it comes to monetary compensation, helping the lawyer to make a better overall decision for the client.
Mock Trials Also Help Attorneys On a More Personal Level
“The cases we present in mock trials are ones we are currently involved in,” notes Kuvin. “When it comes to getting feedback, I am always more interested in exploring the thoughts of the jurors that disagree with me than those that agree with me. The last thing I want to do as an attorney is get caught in an echo chamber about how ‘great’ my case is. I want to hear what others think the problems are, because maybe I can fix them before I have to present the case.”
Mock Trials also help attorneys overcome their personal bias. Because lawyers tend to become emotionally involved in personal injury cases, it’s often hard for them to remain objective. Getting feedback from others who are hearing the facts of a case for the first time often helps lawyers see the forest through the trees.
“Like many attorneys, I become hyper-focused on advocating for my client,” said Kuvin. “So much, sometimes, that my brain may block out negative things that need to be dealt with. Mock juries often recognize things that we as lawyers tend to miss. As advocates, we have to do all we can for our clients. But, it’s vitally important to lay out the bad as well as the good, and address it. You can’t just ignore it.”
As an example, Kuvin referenced a case where a client had been involved in a car accident that was the fault of the other driver, and suffered severe injuries. Despite there never being any accusations that the client had been drinking, – he had not – during a mock trial one of the jurors noticed an empty 6-pack holder lying on the floor in the back of his car in a photo that was going to be offered as evidence. Up until that point, no one had noticed, so it allowed the legal team to remove it and replace it with another photo. “It’s just another example of the little things that are often missed by the attorney, because we tend to get so focused on what we think is important to the case,” said Kuvin.
How Do Mock Trials Help Non-Attorney Staff?
According to Kuvin, by participating in exercises like mock trials, staff gain a sense of drive and purpose.
“I think experiencing the process helps those not necessarily involved in the legal process see the big picture,” said Kuvin. “It provides a sense of drive and purpose, because it shows individuals that their contributions are helping a person get justice in the end. Everyone at the firm plays a role in each case. But, if you don’t see how it all comes together, it’s extremely hard to see the overall picture.”
GOLDLAW staff were excited to have the opportunity to participate in the inaugural In-House Mock Trial. After a call to volunteer as jurors in the mock trial was sent out, Kuvin received an overwhelming response. Ultimately, eighteen individuals were selected to “hear” the case, and were divided into three six-person juries.
Experiencing the Mock Trial
Client Relations Manager Jennifer Fisher was honored to have the opportunity. With over thirty years’ experience in the legal field, she had previously served on juries in New York and Florida, but the GOLDLAW case was her first mock trial.
“I thought it was an excellent opportunity for employees not generally involved in the legal process to see how a case works, as well as to experience the challenges faced by juries,” said Fisher. She noted that the case involving a woman who suffered injuries after a slip-and-fall was “intense,” and that being in a position to make important decisions about someone else’s life “hit hard,” and was an emotional challenge. Overall, she thought it was a great learning experience for GOLDLAW staff, pointing out that her fellow jurors took their responsibility seriously, despite it being just a mock trial.
“I think we all enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate. In my jury, we were all respectful of each other’s positions, even though our opinions may have been different. Our final deliberations and decision reflected that, and I think that showed many of us that it’s possible to work together without having to agree 100% about the outcome.”
And how did she feel about the roles of the attorneys?
“Spencer and Mike (Wasserman) were great!” said Fisher. “They listened to all of our feedback, asked individuals why they felt the way they did, and even pointed out when a juror made a point they had failed to consider. I certainly think they learned from the experience, and that it helped them see the jury’s thought process.”
Mock Trials Here To Stay at GOLDLAW
The success of the first ever mock trial at GOLDLAW has ensured that the process will continue to be an important tool for the attorneys at the firm, and Spencer Kuvin has no doubts that the exercises will not only continue to educate the staff, but will also help attorneys to be better prepared.
“To get the best result for our clients, it’s imperative that we present the best arguments, and have sound strategies. Sometimes that requires thinking out of the box…something not all lawyers are comfortable doing. But, knowing we have the ability to present our cases to a group of smart people, who will ask the right questions, and force us to consider information and circumstances that we may have overlooked is such an invaluable asset. It makes us better lawyers, which will enable us to get better results for the clients we represent.”