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MIT Technology Review

Pretrial Technology

Lawyers are testing arguments and evidence online.

Academic Origins
Borrowing a tool from social scientists, academic researchers studying jury dynamics now run tests on groups pulled from the online marketplace Amazon Mechanical Turk. One study by Jessica Salerno, an assistant professor at Arizona State University, found that Mechanical Turk mock jurors were more likely to vote guilty when the graphic crime photos shown them were in color.

Imitation
The trial consulting firm DecisionQuest has built its own Web tool with 3.5 million mock jurors. A legal team can use it, for example, to test the impact of different arguments.

Time
In 24 to 48 hours, online jury research can provide the same number of responses that traditional jury research provides in one to two months. Lawyer Michael Cypers recently used online sampling to help a client decide whether to take a settlement offer with a 10-day time limit. It was helpful, he says, to know that the online jurors were skeptical of the fraud claim against his client and not convinced that negligence was involved.

Cost
An online mock jury exercise can cost $5,000 to $20,000, whereas a live mock jury costs $50,000 to $150,000. Mechanical Turk workers will take a 20-minute survey for as little as $5 per person, explains lawyer Jonas Jacobson, a trial preparation expert.

Impact
The Focal Point, a firm specializing in the visual presentation of cases, sometime uses online testing to evaluate whether evidence like simple diagrams or 3-D animations is well-recalled and useful in mock deliberations.

Limits
Cypers says that while this testing is useful, it won’t replace testing with live mock jurors, which offers the opportunity to “look in their eyes and see how they respond.”