Trial Consultants are Important, but not Superheroes

In the last few years, the legal world has seen the more visible and extended use of what are known as trial consultants. These individuals are specialists and expert in their fields, which consist of nearly anything useful to a trial. For example, a social scientist may be hired to address what the makeup of the jury should look like; a psychologist may be called in to explain the motivations and performance of witnesses; 3-D animation specialists may be called in to create a video that will more easily help demonstrate concepts to juries; and there are many more.

How Are Consultants Portrayed?

But while these consultants undoubtably contribute and help attorneys in a trial, television has a tendency to both exaggerate and attribute influence to them in courtroom situations in order to heighten drama, simply for entertainment. As with many things, screenwriters sometimes get the implementation and uses of consultants wrong. The website Litigation Insights examined the use of trial consultants last fall in the television show Bull, loosely based on the early career of Phil McGraw, the famous television counselor, as he worked as a trial consultant in Texas. Their goal was to look only at the pilot episode and define whether the use of consultants was realistic or embellished; in their article, they report their findings.

Fact Check 

First off, a bit of background is necessary. Dr. Jason Bull, played by Michael Weatherly, is a psychologist who heads a jury consulting firm in Texas, Trial Analysis Corporation, which uses modern science to select jurors and help decide which defense strategy will work best. In the pilot episode, Bull claims to possess accurate technology to judge a mock jury’s reactions through a palm-reading device and a system used by Homeland Security that collects information. Litigation Insights suggests this technology either doesn’t exist, is too expensive to use, or is simply unethical in some cases. Next, Litigation Insights examines a statement by Bull that he can predict how each juror will vote and what they are thinking throughout the trial, based solely on knowledge of their backgrounds and watching nonverbal clues. If this were indeed entirely possible, Bull would perhaps have a better career playing poker. In reality, the article suggests this kind of prediction may have a degree of succeess  – but no consultant can ever be 100 percent sure about individuals, and the background information is incredibly extensive. In other words, there is more to it than simply examining a person’s background and interpreting nonverbal clues. After examining several other portrayals of the show, the article ends with ethical questions about the role of consultants overall in the judicial process. Is it ethical to use technology and science in this way to manipulate the system, regardless of a client’s guilt or innocence? The simple answer is that consultants – like attorneys and members of other professions – must abide by set ethical rules and the standards and practices of their profession.

Reality

The reality of the situation is that trial consultants may be useful tools in the court and trial system, but most television shows are more interested in viewers than accuracy. Consultants are important and play an extremely vital role in many court cases. However, they are ultimately just another tool used in a client’s defense, and they’re certainly not, like Bull, all-powerful. Billy Johnson and The Johnson Law Firm in Pikeville, Ky., are proud to bring their experience and resources to aggressively pursue your legal needs. If you have questions, or to set up a consultation, contact The Johnson Law Firm online or call 1.877.712.3620  

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