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What jurors’ web presence says about them

A web page is worth a thousand words, especially if you’re looking for information about potential jurors who will decide the fate of your case.

“Whenever I get the jury list, the first thing I do is start Googling,” said Tara Trask of Trask & Associates in San Francisco and treasurer of the American Society of Trial Consultants.

Many lawyers are still underestimating how many people have a strong web presence, whether it’s on their own web page, a blog, Twitter, a MySpace or Facebook page, or some combination thereof.

The number of adults using the Internet with a profile on a social networking site has quadrupled in the past four years, rising from 8 percent in 2005 to 35 percent now, according to a recent Pew research study.

“A massive number of people are getting on social networking sites every day and they are not just teeny-boppers. A lot of lawyers are still not hip to that,” said Trask.

In case you are one of those lawyers, social networking sites are used to share information like hobbies and affiliations, and sometimes very detailed personal information.

“If a lawyer is able to look at a juror’s social networking page, there is almost always something there that would be valuable and you would have missed if you didn’t look at it,” said Anne Reed, an attorney at the Reinhart Law Firm in Milwaukee and author of the blog, Deliberations.

Chances are that a number of your potential jurors are on the web. In fact, a number of jurors have recently gotten booted off a jury or caused a mistrial for blogging about the trial.

The question is how to sift through all the interesting tidbits and make use of information to predict what type of juror the person will be.

Jurors on the web

A juror’s web presence can reveal clues about one of the classic traits that jury consultants look for – whether the person is an extrovert or an introvert.

Someone with a big presence on the Internet, a web page and tons of “friends” on his Facebook page is different than someone whose page is password-protected or who does not keep her page up-to-date.

“It tells me they are pushing out into the world. It tells me they think the world is interested in what they have to say. It tells me they put a lot of emphasis on what they think and care about and what others think about them,” said Trask.

Membership in certain groups may be an indication that the person is a leader and could signal how he or she would interact with others on a jury.

For example, Richard Gabriel, a jury consultant at Decision Analysis in Los Angeles, had a juror in a recent intellectual property case who was not forthcoming about her opinions. After a web search, he found that she was on a number of boards of directors, suggesting she was “a joiner, smart and strong.”

“We ended up keeping her on the jury but without that information we might have bumped her,” said Gabriel.

In a contrasting example, when Gabriel was representing a criminal defendant he was looking for a lone wolf-type who would not easily conform or be swayed by others.

“We found Facebook and MySpace stuff and found a juror who was involved in the Society of Anachronism and found some unusual posts. He seemed like a more idiosyncratic and an independent-thinking juror,” said Gabriel.

Reading a blog or discussion group entries authored by a juror are even more helpful, said Lorrie Messinger, executive vice president of Decision Quest, a trial consultant firm in New York.

“Listening to people chat with each other and respond to news gives you a much better understanding of what they are passionate about and what resonates with them,” she said.

Caveats

In many cases, lawyers and jury consultants face serious time constraints that limit their ability to scour the Internet for clues about jurors.

In addition, some social networking pages are marked private.

Another caveat is that the nature of social networking sites can encourage people to fictionalize or exaggerate.

“People can exaggerate themselves or their personas may not be who they really are,” said Christine Martin, a senior consultant at Decision Quest.

However, in deciding whether to strike a juror, information gleaned from his or her Facebook page would only be used in conjunction with how the person presents in court.

“You always want to make sure what you see [on the web] comports with your observations in court,” said Gabriel, who added that he prefers to ask in the written questionnaire whether a juror has a Facebook or other networking web page and then follow-up later on.

If the person in the jury box seems at odds with their online personality, “you should deal with the person in front of you,” said Trask.

Questions or comments can be directed to the writer at: sylvia.hsieh@lawyersusaonline.com

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