Sometimes it seems like our work takes us back in time. We sometimes visit rural areas (such as the Eastern District of Texas and the Western District of North Carolina) that time seems to have passed by (seriously). Rural venues are subject to confidentiality issues due to the small number of jurors in the pool. You can’t realistically “match” a very rural venue without going to a similar very rural venue, but “rural” is very different from region to region. We have had clients tell us they “matched” a very rural venue in pre-existing pretrial research in a suburb of a major city only 100 miles away, and we always recommend they do it again. And when they do, their jaws often drop in horror at just how different real rural mock jurors are from those suburbanites.
Realize “their world” is likely very different than your own world
At a mock trial we conducted in a very rural area, of 36 mock jurors, only 4 had internet access at home. At another, of 48 jurors, only 11 had smartphones and a majority didn’t understand the question. Most had not “heard of” the amazon.com website! Those were projects with multiple high-tech companies as defendants and they were shocked at the lack of awareness of their companies, products and attitudes toward their work. One of the companies was a major social networking site and they were taken aback when a retired schoolteacher called them “the work of the devil” and the other jurors nodded somberly.
Granted, these particular projects were a few years ago, but if we were to return there today, experience with technology would still lag far behind their urban cousins. Recently in Chicago, of 48 mock jurors, all but 2 owned smartphones, and everyone had internet access at home. The implications for what kinds of technology, witnesses, themes, and demonstratives would resonate with farmers and ranchers versus college grads and office workers are huge.
What this means for teaching is that you have to respect their reality and work to figure out how to help them understand the central issues of your case. That means relating to their unique world and crafting your story so it makes sense to them and they can care about your case. Our experience has been that these are among the nicest people you will meet. They are friendly and eager to be of help. They welcome us even when they know we are very, very urban. They enjoy ribbing us about it, and often invite us to enjoy their corner of the world. Once, we got a recommendation for the best restaurant in town—a Sonic drive through where “their frozen ice cream is just top shelf.”
They are the kind of people who, if you don’t know where something is, are likely to offer to drive where you are headed so you can follow them there. Solid gold. Of all they have taught us, and it’s a lot, perhaps the most important lesson has been that if you treat people with respect, good humor and kindness, you are almost always treated that way in return. Can you find a way to incorporate that into your trial story? The tone and tenor of witness testimony? It is one of the ways that builds the bridge between what matters to your client, and what matters to these jurors.