Dr. Noelle Nelson


Focus Groups

Focus groups are enormously helpful because they give you the average juror’s perspective. The “jurors”  selected are demographically representative of your venue on issues, witnesses, experts, attorney strategy, case themes, evidence, damages, and so forth in a way that allows you to see problems before they arise, and counter them with alternatives that will work. Focus groups can also be used to facilitate voir dire and more effective jury selection.

A focus group can give you:

  • An understanding of the demographics of the jury pool and how those play in favorable jury selection (significance of different cultures, ethnicities, genders, ages, etc. to your case)
  • An opportunity to see how the various segments of the jury pool population will view your case (issues, damages, etc.)
  • An opportunity to hear from these different segments specifically what would make your case stronger in their view and what would make your case more persuasive (issues, arguments, points, themes, graphics).

A focus group is also very useful to determine whether a case should go to trial, or whether settlement is the wiser course. A focus group can result in compelling points to bring up at the time of settlement.

In a full-day focus group, plaintiff and defense each get 1½ hours to present their case (including any witness testimony, video clips). One attorney is required to present the plaintiff’s case, one to present the defense before the mock jurors who don’t know which you represent until after they’ve deliberated and given their comments.

Both sides must be presented strongly, if anything – the opposing side should be even stronger, since what is sought from the focus group is constructive criticism, not pats on the back.

After the presentation portion of the focus group, the lawyers are excused from the room, and I conduct the deliberations portion of the day with the jurors. This may be recorded or viewed through a live feed. The deliberations portion is crucial, for it is then that the jurors “deliberate” on a series of well-targeted questions provided by the lawyer. Such questions should include not only verdict questions but also specific questions such as “What did you think of X argument?” or “If you had known Y, would that have made a difference to you?” Given such questions, the jurors will literally “fix” your case for you by showing you the weaknesses and making astonishingly good suggestions on how to compensate for or correct those weaknesses. I then write up a report.

The number of jurors booked varies–12 to 14 demographically representative jurors will give you a good estimate of community opinion and is the most common number of jurors booked for focus groups. I have worked with focus group juries as big as 42 members, in which case I work with an assistant and split the jurors at time of deliberation into 2 groups. The number of jurors depends on what you want to accomplish.

The location for a focus group is at your discretion. Focus groups can be held in a conference room, with a smaller adjacent room for viewing the monitor during live-feed deliberations, a hotel or a law college’s mock courtroom.

Videotaping can be as simple as putting your phone or camcorder on a tripod, and just letting it run during deliberations, or hiring a professional videographer. Both methods work just fine.

Focus groups are generally held on the weekend (Saturdays) so that we can schedule the same type of working people as will show up in your jury pool.


For more information, or to book a focus group with Dr. Nelson, email  noelle@noellenelson.com.