Cut the “Bull”

Bull is a new television drama featuring a Dr. Bull, modeled after Dr. Phil in his jury consulting days. This high powered, all-knowing consultant acts as a puppet master, anticipating what jurors will think and say before they know it themselves. While entertaining, the show is mostly “Bull.”

While it is true that trial consultants try to anticipate what issues will come up in a case and what types of beliefs and attitudes will shape how a juror views the case, no jury consultant can anticipate what each individual juror or the jury as a whole will ultimately do. While Dr. Bull uses technology to trace every keystroke ever made on a juror’s computer, in most instances, a jury consultant knows nothing about the jurors sitting on a case until they walk in the courtroom doors and begin introducing themselves. On occasion, we will get some information in advance on a questionnaire but the information is limited.

Dr. Bull uses what are called “shadow juries” to determine what the real jurors are thinking at any given moment. He claims to be able to match the jury’s characteristics (including demographics, upbringing, beliefs, and even looks!) by 85% or higher. While shadow juries are used (very rarely) in very large cases, this type of matching of backgrounds is impossible.

Dr. Bull places great emphasis on a juror’s backgrounds and beliefs and while these are certainly important factors for any consultant to consider, the beliefs on their own tell us nothing. We need to know how a certain belief/attitude will impact how that juror feels about the issues in this case. Many background beliefs or personal characteristics will be irrelevant to the issues at hand. And often people with similar backgrounds react differently to the case facts due to other differences in life experiences or opinions about the subject matter. A consultant’s job is to find out what issues are pivotal in a case (in the jurors’ minds), craft the case in a way to minimize those issues, and direct attorneys on how to ask meaningful voir dire questions to get at jurors’ beliefs for that particular case. A consultant’s job is make the case stronger but no consultant can guarantee a win or know exactly what jurors are thinking. That’s just “Bull.”

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