Tips for Conducting Post-Trial Juror Interviews
When trial is finished, and particularly if it did not go well, you may be inclined to conduct some post-trial interviews with the jurors. Since jurors may be inclined for various reasons (discussed below) to either lie to you or give curt answers, you need to be aware of some interviewing tips and methods if you are going to get useful, accurate answers to your questions.
The following are barriers to getting full and honest responses, followed by methods to help eliminate these issues:
1. Jurors just want to go home. Immediately following the verdict, jurors may agree to sit in a room with you to answer questions but in many cases, they really just want to go home and get back to their lives. They may not speak up in a group in order to make the interview progress more quickly. It is often better to contact jurors in the days following the end of trial and ask for some of their time over the phone (or in person if they would prefer) at a time that is convenient for them. Do not conduct your phone calls during weekday evenings or on Sundays at first. If you are not getting a response, you can try those times and leave a voicemail. If you have trouble getting jurors to return your calls, you may want to offer them $50 cash as an incentive.
2. Jurors don’t want to tell you the truth to your face. No one likes saying bad things about someone to their face. If jurors did not like you, they may say so in some fashion during post-trial interviews if you are the one interviewing them, but trust me, they are much more candid with a third-party doing the interviewing. Even better if they do not know which side the person calling works for. If you don’t have the money to hire a trial consultant to do the interviews for you, have someone from your office call from a non-office phone. If jurors ask who the caller works for, have them simply explain that they are happy to answer that and any other questions at the end of the interview, but because it can unconsciously bias the interview itself, they are not allowed to answer that up front. Most jurors understand that and will continue with the interview. You will be surprised at what they will say.
3. Your interview style leads jurors instead of opening them up to answer honestly. The rules for interviewing are similar to those for voir dire. Do 10% of the talking. Ask open-ended follow-up questions (“Tell me more about that” or “What else?”). Keep asking those questions until the juror says “that’s really all.” Do not be afraid of silence. I will often forewarn jurors up front that I may ask some questions that sound repetitive but it is not because I’m not listening to them; rather, it’s because some jurors don’t think of things the first time you ask or they interpret questions differently so I often get different responses. I have yet to have a juror be angry or frustrated with me asking them to “tell me more” so often.
4. Make sure your questions don’t give you away. If you want honest answers, you have to make sure jurors do not know which side you work for. If you are consistently asking questions to understand why you lost or what you did wrong but do not balance the interview with questions geared at the other side, jurors will quickly pick up on your motive. Ask what jurors thought of the plaintiff’s attorney, followed by what they thought of the defense attorney. Ask what more they wanted to hear from the plaintiff, followed by what more they wanted to hear from the defendant. Balance every question on both sides.
5. Ask the all-important end question. At the end of the interview, ask if there is anything you have not asked about that they think would be important for you to know. Some jurors will say “no,” some will say something about low juror pay or something else you may not be interested in, and some will say something really valuable. Do not assume that you have asked all the right questions.