The Jury Expert is entering a new era, with a fresh staff of editors, authors, and ideas. To re-launch the publication, we asked a huge contributor to the old TJE (Rita Handrich) and a contributor to the new TJE (Clint Townson) to share their thoughts and reflections on TJE and its place in the field of trial consulting.

What is a lesson that any generation of trial consultant is likely to benefit from, regardless of their experience or era?

Clint Townson: The best advice I got when I started out was to keep a personal record of the cases and attorneys I had worked with. Essentially, it has allowed me to build a library from which to draw knowledge and background for any new matter that may come through the door. There have been moments where this repository has helped me recall a specific venue quirk or a piece of the juror profile from a similar case that can be valuable moving forward on a new case. Plus it has served dividends in being able to speak to the number of cases I’ve worked on, my success rate, etc.  

Rita Handrich: I think maintaining curiosity and being willing to put in the work of reviewing the literature to see what experiences have been applied or are relevant and could be applied.

One of the things I focused on the most (thanks to Doug Keene’s tutelage) was the idea of attitudes, beliefs, and values and how those have impact on case facts. A secondary lesson, was on the difference between something being “interesting” versus “relevant” versus “admissible” for a particular case.

What is a theory or framework from the past few decades that you believe is timeless for consultants to use in their practice?

CT: For me, a foundational theory I continually apply in my own work is Shelly Chaiken’s Heuristic-Systematic Model. There are so many wonderful publications that derived their experimental framework from this theory and then elucidated conclusions that are relevant for applied settings. I can repeatedly rely upon it when discussing core elements of a client’s case, from credibility to how they can engage jurors in the venire. It captures what I believe to be an essential truth in juror processing: they will be critical thinkers for some things, but not with everything.

RH: Without question, the story-telling model. We all want a narrative that makes sense or explains to us the “why” and “what” of case facts. The research on just HOW to tell a story, and in what order case facts should be presented—was critical in my understanding of how trial consultants can contribute to litigation strategy.

Other than TJE, what is a resource that you believe is indispensable for a trial consultant?

CT: Google Alerts are a secret weapon for staying abreast of developments in jury trials and the world of litigation. Attorneys want to work with consultants who have their finger on the pulse of what is happening in the realms of jurors. I have found that even a weekly digest is something that keeps you on the cutting edge and provides you a basis to speak to myriad client concerns. For instance, I recently had a client ask me about cases brought against or involving high-profile company executives (e.g., the Elon Musks of the world), and I was readily able to expound upon the nature of these kinds of cases and what considerations were important in regard to jurors.

 RH: I also used Google Alerts but for a wide variety of topics and keywords. This kept me abreast of multiple social issues and pop culture references useful in telling a story. The other top resources for me were university databases (amazing—especially the articles approved but not yet published that were available online!). I also benefitted from identifying effective stretches to minimize the physical impact of lengthy hours sitting behind mirrored observation windows and even longer hours at the keyboard.

Guilty pleasure confession: I also became a viewer of reality TV show competitions—especially those featuring younger adults so I understood pop culture references which can be incredibly important as we learned in a mock trial where jurors made fun of an aging attorney for liking Barry Manilow!

What is a topic you gleaned from the old TJE that you believe still holds up as important to consider moving forward?

CT: I look back at the archives of TJE and I think there is still so much value to be taken from discussions of how jurors view damages. While some theories have eroded as better data are collected (good riddance, Reptile), much of cognition related to damages is unchanged—empathic desires to compensate harmed people, the anchoring effect, jurors’ difficulty in comprehending huge numbers, etc. I think particularly given the run of nuclear verdicts that were rattled off in 2022, it may be instructive to go back and reflect on some of those pieces to see where things have evolved and where the rock-solid foundation lies.

RH: I loved the whole idea of applying research findings to case facts in innovative ways. It was like a “secret weapon” (in my mind) that allowed us to use very subtle strategies to present evidence in ways that made a difference. We had a blog we used to share the ideas gleaned from research; there are probably more than a hundred other examples on the blog of how we consistently used lessons from the literature.

What is something you hope carries over from the TJE of the past and the TJE of the future?

CT: TJE in the past to me always represented an important crossroads between good social science and practical applications in law. So much of it was founded upon collaboration and close ties with the academic community—in some ways, TJE has been a showcase for the symbiotic relationship between academics and practicing consultants. Academics advance theories and proffer conclusions about jurors, and trial consultants then gather additional field data based upon these theories to offer as refinements or limits to such theories. Great social science requires that kind of cooperation, so I hope TJE continues to facilitate such relationships.

RH: I completely agree with Clint on this one.

Looking forward, what is a new or novel perspective that you hope TJE can integrate in the coming years?

CT: I think a lot of lawyers are looking at artificial intelligence and what it can assist with in their own practices. Similarly, I do believe it holds some potential for trial consultants—I’m not expecting it to pick a jury for me or help draft strategic results, but I do wonder if there are opportunities to supplement juror profiles or graphics recommendations with what AI can produce. I’ll admit that I’m not an expert at all, but it would be great for someone who is an expert to offer their perspective on how AI might have functionality in a field like trial consulting.

RH: I think everything has changed so much since pandemic shutdowns. I would refer back to the role of curiosity and speculation on how societal/cultural changes could have small gems of knowledge for effective practice.

Where would you like to see the readership of TJE expand to in the future?

CT: I would love for TJE to reach more students at the undergraduate and graduate levels of great social science schools. Trial consulting is such a niche field, and I can’t help but wonder if there are talented individuals who are seeking this exact kind of role. When I was that age, I was interested in psychology and the law but had no clue this job existed until I encountered ASTC. I think TJE could provide that kind of exposure.

 RH: When we first conceived the “new” (back then) TJE, it was with the phrase, “this is not your grandfather’s law journal”. We wanted to capitalize on the internet and relative “immediacy” of commentary by trial consultants and interaction with readers.

I’d like to see TJE as a resource for mid-career folks in multiple areas who are interested in intellectual stimulation (and perhaps a career change) and can feel as if they have “come home” as they visit the website. I believe life and work experience aids in learning the immense value of curiosity and intellectual stimulation.