THE top-gun lawyers and forensic scientists on O.J. Simpson's
defense "dream team" may soon be joined by other experts armed
with survey data and focus-group videotapes. They are trial
consultants, and these days few high-powered criminal-defense or
civil litigation teams are without them.
According to Laurie Levenson, law professor at Loyola Law School
in Los Angeles, Mr. Simpson's lawyers have contacted several
well-known consultants. They include JoEllan Dimitrius of Los
Angeles, who worked with the defense attorneys in the Rodney King
and Reginald Denny cases.
Legal consultants are best known for helping lawyers select
jurors who, based on the consultants' research and observation, are
likely to favor a litigant's case - or who at least aren't biased
against the case. But the once-common term "jury consultants" is
giving way to "trial consultants," as these experts become
increasingly involved in all aspects of trial preparation and
Even that term is too narrow, though, consultants say. "Many of
us prefer to describe our work as litigation consulting," says
Gail Pearl, a consultant with Starr Litigation Services in West Des
Moines, Iowa, and a former president of the American Society of
Trial Consultants. "We assist lawyers in settlement negotiations,
mediation, and arbitration proceedings as well as in court
The popular image of trial consultants is still that of the guru
who, listening intently to potential jurors and watching their
every gesture and blink, quietly advises a lawyer to accept or
"strike" jurors during voir dire questioning. Drawing on training
in psychology or sociology, such consultants seem almost to read
the minds of possible jurors.
Ms. Dimitrius and some other consultants do seem to have uncanny
insights about people's attitudes that aid in jury selection. But
some consultants shy away from what one calls the "intuitive
model" of consulting.
Dimitrius worked briefly for Litigation Sciences Inc., based in
Culver City, Calif., one of the largest trial-consulting companies.
But her style didn't quite fit with the firm's approach, says Mark
Phillips, director of Litigation Sciences' Boston office.
"We believe in the law of large numbers, in the predictive
reliability of extensive survey data," Mr. Phillips says. "Our
strength isn't in reading tea leaves and evaluating nonverbal
communications," he says, adding that he respects Dimitrius's
Trial consultants offer a wide array of services besides counsel
in jury selection. Through questionnaires, mock trials, focus
groups, shadow juries, post-trial interviews of jurors, and other
techniques, they help lawyers identify issues that might preoccupy
jurors (which may be different from the legal issues that lawyers
focus on), select and hone persuasive arguments, and develop trial