As lawyers, we love to become deeply immersed in our cases. Law school taught us to examine and re-examine every fact and element of a case, a skill which builds amazing cases and wins trials! But this analytical overdrive can also cause us to become disconnected from the truth. We can lose grasp of the bad parts of a case and ignore them, to massive detriment. For example, a case may arrive with a solid set of facts on who is responsible and how the injury occurred, but also brings along a client with an unmanaged expectation or attitude. The lawyer proceeds to work up the case, while ignoring the difficult client, and then presents a strong settlement offer. In turn, the client won’t listen to or accept the offer because he or she has been ignored by the attorney for months. This situation is a lose-lose.
An easy way lawyers can stay grounded in the reality of their case is by getting an outside perspective.
Outside Perspective #1: Focus Groups
Focus groups offer perspectives from outside the legal world, particularly from the types of people who may very well end up on a civil jury. Focus group participants are excellent at telling lawyers quickly what problems they see or perceive, which may be the same problems the lawyer knew or may be new problems the lawyer never saw. The beauty of focus groups is that they come in a variety of styles and can be fashioned to best suit your needs. For example, if you are working on how to tell the story of what happened in a case, you can write it out, read it to a focus group and ask what they believe happened. The responses and questions will instantly reveal whether your story was clear or confusing.
By tuning into what people outside the legal world think or feel, you receive valuable, independent viewpoints and stay connected with all aspects of your case.
Outside Perspective #2: Client Witness Preparation
Clients are the number one target of opposing counsel in any case. Bringing in an outside lawyer to prepare your client for deposition or trial testimony offers an objective legal viewpoint. Having someone take a second look at your client can broaden your awareness of strengths and weaknesses. Delegating this task affords the opportunity for the outside lawyer to spend more time with the client and brings fresh ears to the client’s story. Clients are prone to retell details to their own lawyers, but might share something new with an outsider.
Connecting Focus Groups and Client Witness Preparation
Focus groups can tell you what facts your clients must cover.
For example, after running several focus groups on car wreck collisions, I saw a pattern emerge. In every focus group, the participants asked if the drivers had been wearing their seat belts and if the air bags had deployed. If these two facts were not given to them, they assumed the drivers had not worn seat belts and the air bags had not deployed. They went on to assume that the car crash must’ve been minor and the driver’s injuries, if any, were a result of their own bad behavior.
Elizabeth Larrick is an attorney who specializes in witness preparation, focus groups and trial consulting. By utilizing Elizabeth’s services, you will gain access to outside perspectives which will improve the quality of your cases.