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On Words

Jury Consultants and Book Editors: Shared Traits


Jury Consultants and Book Editors:
Common Traits


I have been asked why I work as a jury consultant and as a freelance editor/writer. At first glance, the fields seem disjointed; the practice and study of each counterintuitive. But for me, the marriage of the two fields is a perfect union. 

At the heart of each book, and the center of each trial, there is a story that must be told, and told well. Editor and jury consultant, use their skills and intuition to help the storyteller and/ or  lawyer, identify and organize themes, to help the client discover the hook, provide just the right foreshadowing so that he or she can lead the juror through a journey of unfolding truths. 

Editors and jury consultants support a very complex and creative process. At the end of  the day, litigation scientists and editors seek to bring out the best in the attorney and/or author by focusing the client's attention, allowing him or her to discover the most compelling story.
All of the above is undertaken in a pressure cooker when the client (writer or litigator) is under great pressure, his or her reputation hanging in the balance, and in the background, there exists, always, the driving sound of the ticking clock. 


I think there exists a basic misconception about what both editors and jury consultants do for their clients. For example, an outsider to the field may think a jury consultant picks juries for high profile cases, and that an editor corrects manuscripts and pulls the work out of the writer. Surprisingly, these two things happen, but they are not always the core functions or roles. What an editor does for a writer has little to do with punctuation (see Didion below) and what a jury consultant does for a case has less to do with the letter of the law, and everything to do with identifying and evaluating the social and physiological factors surrounding the trial. 

Jury consultants focus on the cultural perception of the law or procedural justice. Their journey starts months before the trial begins and it begins with questions: What are the social factors that will influence the case? What are the filters by which jurors will see and hear the attorney's arguments? Are the attorney's arguments credible? Does this case warrant the expense of hiring a jury consultant? Will the story hold up to a group of twelve? Why? Why not? 

Is this beginning to sound like an editor's job to you?

A good editor has the ability to recognize something magical even when it is scrambled and raw, not yet fully defined on the page. He or she appreciates the energy in the writer's words and is able to identify the force within the writer that cannot be extinguished (even when the writer is faced with the daunting task of countless weeks or years of what will seem like an endless cycle of revisions, rejections, revisions...). 


Author Joan Didion, when writing about her long time editor, Henry Robbins , explains what he did for her work (AFTER HENRY, Vintage, 1992, page 20). "What editors do for writers is mysterious, and does not, contrary to popular belief, have much to do with titles and sentences and 'changes'." Didion explains that the relationship is subtle and deep, both elusive and radical, at times somewhat paternal. In the end, she explains that Henry Robbins "was the person who gave the writer the idea of himself that enabled the writer to sit down alone and do it." 

What does the above have to do with lawyers and jury consultants?

Jury consultants and editors work with people who either write about, or fight for, things that matter- things that matter to them and things that  ought to matter to all of us.