JUNE 2001


The E-Alternative
Online mock juries offer cheap and fast opinions


Chris Bagby put together a mock jury to measure damages for a victim of an airline crash and another for an unsuspecting diner who was served a chalupa with a screw cooked inside.

There is almost always enough money at stake in an airline crash case to justify the expense of a mock jury, but damages from a tainted chalupa usually can't cover the $20,000 to $35,000 expense of staging a mock trial.

Bagby's fledgling company, E-jury.net in Arlington, Texas, uses virtual jurors to chop 90 percent of the cost out of the process, while providing attorneys with input from potential jurors in the county where the litigation is pending.

E-jury.net has about 400 prospective jurors in five Texas counties, with plans to expand.

Other electronic juries take a more national focus.  They recruit juries an any community the client chooses.  LitiComm OnLine in Chicago and Virtualjury, with locations in Dallas and Houston, establish electronic pools on demand.

"We can select a group in a particular federal district or state, depending on the client need," says Robert Gordon, chief research scientist for Virtualjury, which is associated with the Wilmington Institute of Trial and Settlement Sciences in Addison, Texas.

Both LitiComm and Virtualjury offer real-time deliberations in a chat room.  LitiComm generally gathers six to eight people on a panel and tells them to expect about 45 minutes of deliberations, says Emmanuel Mackey, director of operations for LitiComm, a subsidiary of Carlton Trial Consulting & Research Center, Inc. in Chicago.

Virtualjury allows the lawyer to masquerade as a juror to see how jurors react to certain comments.

By contrast, E-jury.net solicits responses from as many as 50 online jurors, but the group never deliberates as a whole.

Vic Anderson, who used E-jury.net, had a particularly sympathetic injury case.  But it had some circumstances that could have turned jurors off.  E-jury.net provided a wide range of reactions, including tips on how to present the case, says Anderson, a Fort Worth lawyer.

Arlington lawyer Michael Heygood submitted a medical malpractice case through E-jury to a pool that included a couple of nurses.

"They pointed out to us that we had made a mistake in the medical terminology," he says.  "If that had happened at trial and someone on the jury noticed it, we would have looked very silly."

One of the keys to making an electronic jury useful, however, is accurately representing the entire case, Heygood says.  The lawyer boil the case down to five or 10 pages.  "The results I get are only as good as I represent the other side of the case," he says. "This tool won't be useful if I weight everything in my favor."

Other electronic jury companies allow lawyers to submit specific pieces of evidence or a written opening or closing statement to get the reactions of jurors.  Anything the lawyer wants to submit can generally go to most online juries.

The Down Side
Still, electronic juries have detractors.  Some complain that without real deliberations there is no way to tell how the jury would actually rule.  Others contend that the virtual jury eliminates all that body language and tone of voice can send. 

"Opinions can change a lot in the group dynamic, and you tend to lose that electronically," says Harriet Poster, senior project director for Mar's Research in Coral Springs, Fla.  "It has the potential to alter the outcome."

There is also the problem of electronic juries only reaching people who own computers.

Anderson, however, isn't terribly worried about reaching the technologically challenged.  "The people without computers are the people who don't show up for jury duty, and when they do they are the followers," he says.  "I want to find out what the leaders are thinking, and those people have computers."

©2003 ABA Journal