PROFILE FIRST JURY INC.: Practice makes perfect Local trial consultants aim to help lawyers prepare for litigation

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FIRST JURY INC. Practice makes perfect

Local trial consultants aim to help lawyers prepare for litigation Blame the name. Attorneys could be forgiven if they thought hiring Indianapolis-based First Jury Inc. would get them advice on choosing a jury sympathetic to their clients’ cause. But its staff won’t tell them to avoid the woman with her arms crossed or the man who won’t make eye contact.

Instead, they’ll assemble a jury of their own and stage a mock trial, all in an effort to yield scientific data to help lawyers prepare for court-or give them an idea of what to push for in a settlement.

“We replicate what you’ll get in your real jury. Get your ‘First J u r y ‘ – t h a t ‘s us,” said Scott Weathers, a practicing attorney and co-founder of the trial consulting service.

“We are in the risk-assessment business,” concurred business partner and fellow lawyer Steve Huffer. “Our mock trial is like a pre-season football game.”

Weathers, 46, and Huffer, 47, launched First Jury in 1998, a year after leaving a local law firm to start their own practice, Huffer & Weathers P.C. Firm office manager Emily Mesecar also is a part owner and vice president of First Jury.

The men had watched and participated in mock trials since the mid-1990s and wanted to try their hand at running some. As lawyers, they felt they had an advantage.

“Most people who do this are social scientists, psychologists or research psychologists,” Huffer said.

“Being lawyers makes us better trial consultants, and being trial consultants makes us better lawyers,” Weathers chimed in.

As attorneys, they have represented both sides in litigation, something they said helps them anticipate what can happen in a trial. Huffer often plays the opposing lawyer in the mock trials, matching wits against the client.

Although the concept is fairly new in Indiana, mock trials have been popular in New York, California and Chicago for 20-25 years, they said. Weathers and Huffer hope to boost interest from Indiana lawyers. Therein lies their greatest challenge: convincing lawyers that a mock trial is worth the cost.

For about $25,000, First Jury finds jurors, pays them for their time and rents a facility to host the trial. Clients get the chance to practice making their case. They can position colleagues behind one-way glass to watch the proceedings, and can watch jury deliberations themselves.

First Jury produces a 40- to 50-page report at the end of the trial, and surveys the jury throughout the process.

“We take questionnaires from the jury-10 or 12 questionnaires during the day,” Weathers said. “We get statistical and demographic information on their income, education and ethnicity. Different ethnic groups have differences in attitude about giving away money.”

This can be important in both productliability and insurance cases, which are often divisive. Some people are more willing to “redistribute wealth,” as he put it, than others.

First Jury provides two panels of 10 jurors each “to be more reliable and scientific,” Weathers said, “and to prevent a weird, unrepresentative result.”

Lawyers need mock trials because “it is very hard to be objective when you are caught up in a case,” he said. But a practice run can give them a chance to “assess what’s going on in the case in an objective manner.”

Still, local demand for the trials is far from overwhelming.

“This is an education problem,” Weathers explained. “Once you’ve seen one, you are hooked, and you can’t understand why you never did it before. No one has ever said it was a waste.”

And business has been growing. First Jury did five mock trials in 2004, 10 in 2005 and is on track to do 12 this year. About 80 percent of its clients are local. Of the 250 companies that belong to the American Society of Trial Consultants, only four-including First Jury-are in Indiana.

Chicago attorney Mark Karasik, a believer in mock trials for 20 years, sampled First Jury’s services when he was working with a client in Carmel.

“Their feedback and quality of reporting is as good as any I’ve seen,” he said. “They help you test your theories, and know what to stay away from and what to emphasize. It is worth the investment.”

Phil Richards, a lawyer in Tulsa, Okla., likewise is impressed with First Jury.

“They really make it a good experience for everyone, and they are fun to watch in action,” he said.

Weathers loves doing mock trials almost more than real trial work.

“The law is confrontational,” he said. “I like to work with lawyers rather than against them.”

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