When you turn on the television and see a show about a true-crime story with dramatic reenactments of the trial, you probably don’t think about all the time, effort, and preparation that was put in long before the trial even began. Attorneys for both sides often spend weeks and months getting their cases ready in the hopes of hearing the verdict they want at the trial’s end.
But to think that attorneys work alone in preparing their case for trial is short-sided. Instead, attorneys often rely on a huge team of experts to mold the best case they can from the information and evidence they have.
One member of these teams – the trial consultant – brings expertise to the table that helps attorneys in a variety of ways. The jurors you see sitting in the jury box are there due in part because trial consultants vetted them. A consultant prepped the witness that recounts their experience in vivid detail on the stand as well. Even the manner in which the attorneys themselves speak, interact with the jury, and question witnesses is carefully prepared, often with the assistance of a trial consultant.
What is a Trial Consultant?
A trial consultant is an expert in a specific field that lends his or her expertise to prosecutors or defense attorneys. Though in the past this was often done in the context of helping attorneys prepare for trial, today, some trial consultants instead offer mediation services and arbitration sessions. This shift has occurred in large part because so many court cases are now settled before going to trial.
Though trial consultants are often perceived by the public as being experts in psychology, that is certainly not the only field from which trial consultants originate. Instead, trial consultants might have a background in anything from law to anthropology, handwriting analysis to law enforcement, and just about anything in between.
Regardless of their area of expertise, a trial consultant – or jury consultant or litigation consultant as some are called – are tasked with using their knowledge and skills to help their consultees present the best case.
What Does a Trial Consultant Do?
As noted above, the primary role of a trial consultant is to assist their consultees in preparing a strong case. In most cases, this involves attorneys hiring the consultant to offer their input regarding how to best approach the case.
For example, a defense attorney who is tasked with defending an accused murderer might employ a trial consultant with a background in psychology to develop a questionnaire that helps identify which potential jurors would be most sympathetic to their client’s case. As another example, a trial consultant with a background in sociology might be hired to organize and conduct focus groups before a trial, with the purpose of gauging public opinion about the case.
Other trial consultants specialize in areas totally unrelated to jury selection. For example, a trial consultant with a background in information technology might help a prosecutor to create a slideshow or video that summarizes evidence that’s been compiled against a defendant. A consultant with expertise in child psychology might offer their insights regarding how to best handle having a child witness on the stand.
Perhaps the most well known duty of a trial consultant, however, is in preparing witnesses, attorneys, and even the accused for trial. This might involve arranging mock trials during which each stakeholder has an opportunity to experience what it might be like to take the stand, cross-examine a witness, or testify on one’s own behalf.
Trial consultants with expertise in communications can offer their skills to assist in developing strong oral arguments as well. This might take the form of helping attorneys write their opening or closing statements, offering advice regarding how the attorney might deliver those statements, and even helping attorneys identify the most effective manner to explain complex or complicated evidence.
No matter what their specific duty, one thing is common to all trial consultants – they work as a member of a larger team that has a common goal. Their job is to contribute to the work of the team to ensure that that goal is achieved, be that a not guilty verdict for a defense client, a guilty verdict for the prosecution, and so forth.
Where Does a Trial Consultant Work?
Most commonly, trial consultants work in one of two contexts – at a consulting or law firm or as a self-employed consultant.
Consultants that are employed by a large consulting or law firm might be more specialized in their field of expertise than those that are self-employed. For example, in a large consulting firm, one trial consultant might be an expert in forensic psychology, whereas another might be an expert in working specifically with female witnesses.
On the other hand, independent trial consultants that are self-employed might have a broader area of expertise. So, for example, they might offer services that are based on the principles of psychology, but rather than being focused on one area (like the previous example of forensics) they might be more broadly based like child psychology, criminal psychology or social psychology.
Why Do We Need Trial Consultants?
The benefit of trial consultants is that they provide valuable insights that help attorneys develop their approach to a trail. Though attorneys are experts in law, not every aspect of a trial revolves around the law. An ideal example of this is jury selection. Though prosecutors and defense attorneys alike want jury members that are likely to be sympathetic to their presentation of the evidence, ultimately, the two sides want two very different kinds of people on the jury.
Hiring a trial consultant helps both sides get as many people on the jury as possible that they feel will help them get the verdict they hope for at the end of the trial. Furthermore, trial consultants offer a vital service in preparing witnesses for trial. Because of their work, witnesses for both the prosecution and defense can take the stand, speak more clearly, be more confident, and be more comfortable in their role as well.
As a result of that, the messages of the prosecution and defense are clearer and better defined. That’s beneficial for the jury as some cases can be incredibly complex, so the more on-point the message is, the more likely they are to be able to make sense of it and form an informed opinion based on the evidence presented.
Taken together, these two aspects of trial consulting make for a smoother trial experience for all. When some of these cases are a matter of life and death, this work becomes even more important in making a quick and fair trial more likely to occur.
What are the Requirements to Become a Trial Consultant?
The educational requirements to be a trial consultant are broad and vary depending on the type of consulting one does. Nevertheless, the road to becoming a jury consultant begins with completing an appropriate bachelor’s degree program in one’s desired field of study.
For example, a student that wishes to become a trial consultant for a law firm would be best served majoring in a law-related field like criminal justice. On the other hand, a student that wants to be a trial consultant that’s an expert in criminal psychology or forensic psychology would likely want to major in psychology for their undergraduate studies.
Regardless of the major, most undergraduate programs require upwards of 120 credit hours of coursework, which typically takes about four years to complete. During that time, students take general education courses like English, science, math, and so forth, in addition to specialized courses within their major area of study.
The purpose of undergraduate studies is to introduce students to a broad base of topics, as well as familiarize them with introductory subjects within their major. Once undergraduate studies are completed, prospective trial consultants would be well-served to continue their studies in graduate school, as that will improve their knowledge and skills in their field of study while also giving them the opportunity to get real-world experience as a trial consultant.
That’s because graduate programs are designed to give students more practical experiences in preparing for their careers. In addition to coursework (which, depending on the graduate program can be anywhere from 30 credits to more than 60 credits), students typically take part in practicum or internship experiences in which they apply what they’ve learned to real-life settings.
For a student in a trial consulting graduate program, that might involve an internship with a local law firm where they apply their research and analytical skills in helping an attorney prepare their case for trial.
Though a Ph.D. is not required to be a trial consultant, again, the more education one has, the more marketable they will be. Ph.D. students in trial consulting have further opportunities to study with experts in the field and gain practical experience in applying their knowledge and skills to situations they might encounter in the working world.
Ph.D. programs vary widely in terms of their length and focus of study, but by and large, doctoral programs require an additional 3-5 years of study after completion of a master’s program. During that time, students focus much less on formal classroom learning and much more on things like internships, independent research, and completing a doctoral thesis.
What Does it Take to Become a Trial Consultant?
As with any profession, to be maximally successful, one must possess a variety of qualities and skills. For trial consultants, that includes:
Analytical skills – Trial consultants spend a bulk of their time researching and analyzing data, from legal decisions to human behavior and just about everything in between. As a result, having the ability to examine problems and evaluate potential solutions is key.
Communication skills – Another large component of a trial consultant’s job is to communicate with other members of their team and their clients in both written and verbal form. As such, trial consultants must have an excellent command of communication skills so they can present their findings, thoughts, and suggestions in a way that’s easily understood by everyone involved.
Understanding of human behavior – Though not all trial consultants deal with the realms of psychology or sociology, a the very least, a basic understanding of what motivates people to behave the way they do will help trial consultants have a more fruitful working relationship with their clients and other members of their team, like attorneys or other trial consultants.
Persistence – Trial consulting often requires a lot of long hours, working with a variety of people in a host of different settings. Being persistent, having a willingness to go the extra mile, and a desire to find ways to overcome obstacles will serve a trial consultant well.
Likability – Trial consultants must be able to get their clients to like and trust them. Additionally, trial consultants must have the ability to gain the trust of witnesses and other stakeholders whom they are tasked with preparing for trial. Having strong interpersonal skills will allow a trial consultant to be genuine and understanding, which in turn fosters trust.
What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Trial Consultant?
Trial consulting is a rewarding career with many positives. However, there are some negative aspects of the job of which to be aware:
- Job security – As long as there’s a legal system in place, there will be a demand for trained trial consultants. Though the job outlook for this career isn’t as strong as other fields, the need will nevertheless always be there
- Range of work environments – As discussed above, some trial consultants work for large consulting or legal firms, while others are self-employed. Beyond that, experienced trial consultants might even be able to find employment in the education sector, such as at a university as a professor. Having many different options for work opportunities is a definite plus of entering this career field.
- Exciting work – Trial consulting can be an exciting field in which to work. That’s especially true if one is participating in high-profile cases and trials.
- Making a difference – Though trial consultants often work behind the scenes, their contributions to cases and trials can make a demonstrable difference in the outcome. Making a difference in someone’s life can be a highly fulfilling aspect of this job.
- Opportunity for advancement – The more education and work experience one has, the more opportunities they will have to find work as a trial consultant. That means that there are plentiful opportunities for good trial consultants to continue building their career and open new doors for work.
- High-stress – Trial consulting is not for the faint of heart. It often requires long hours and lots of deadlines, which can lead to high-stress work environments.
- Pay is widely variable – Like any job, the money you can expect to make as a trial consultant varies as a result of many different conditions, including one’s level of education and expertise, as well as the location in which they work.
- Extensive education is often required – Most trial consultants have at least a master’s degree, if not a Ph.D. Furthermore, many trial consultants also have a law degree. That translates into a lot of time and money spent on education.
- Labor intensive – Trial consulting might sound like a cushy job, but it requires an incredible amount of time researching, conducting interviews, preparing mock trials, and so forth. Trial consultants often work nights and weekends, which only adds to the workload.
- Thankless work – Sometimes, despite their best efforts, a trial consultant is on the losing side at trial. Even when they’re on the winning side, there’s often little in the way of celebrating the win as another trial might be coming up. If you’re looking for accolades and thanks, this is likely not the job for you.
How Much Does a Trial Consultant Make?
The potential income for a trial consultant varies widely due to a number of different factors.
First, consultants with expertise in areas that are in high demand can then demand higher wages. For example, handwriting experts, who are more likely to be hired for trial consulting, can likely command a higher wage than an expert in animal behavior.
Secondly, the level of expertise is a factor in how much a consultant can make. Naturally, if one has many years of experience in the field, they will be able to charge a higher price for their services than someone that’s fresh out of college.
Third, the geographic area in which a trial consultant works can impact how much money they make. On the one hand, consultants in urban areas can likely command a higher salary simply because there are more trials and more demand for their services compared to consultants in more rural areas.
Regardless, most trial consultants can earn a very nice annual wage. According to PayScale, legal consultants can expect to make around $50,000 per year to over $90,000 per year, on average. However, more experienced and in-demand consultants could make significantly more money, from $10,000 per job to more than $250,000 per job, depending on the length of their employ.
What is the Job Outlook for Trial Consultants?
The job outlook for trial consultants can be expected to grow at a similar rate as other legal-related professions. Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t offer specific data for trial consultants, they do offer information about lawyers and other legal professionals.
Using that data, we can assume that the need for trial consultants will experience low to average growth in the next ten years. That’s based on the fact that lawyers should see job growth in the 10% range with other legal professionals expecting slightly better growth at 15% by 2026.
However, as noted earlier, since most court cases are settled before trial, trial consultants will have a better employment outlook if they diversify the services they offer, like mediation and arbitration services. That helps protect against the diminishing number of cases that actually go to trial by diversifying the services that one offers.
What Careers are Similar to Trial Consultant?
Since trial consultants work in the legal world, there are various legal-related professions that offer a similar work experience. This includes:
Paralegal – Much like a trial consultant, a paralegal focuses on helping prepare a case for court. That includes conducting research on the facts of the case and any related laws, organizing and maintaining records and paperwork, drafting legal documents, and so forth. Paralegals can even specialize in specific types of law, like litigation or corporate law, where their function is even more specialized.
Lawyer – A lawyer represents their client in court. Though that’s the most obvious aspect of their job, much of a lawyer’s time is spent researching case law, fact-finding, and analyzing legal briefs to advance their case. Lawyers interpret laws, examine past rulings on those laws, and use that information to build a case on behalf of their client.
Arbitrator – An arbitrator facilitates a negotiation between two opposing sides to bring an end to a conflict. Like others in the legal profession, arbitrators spend much of their time researching and analyzing data, preparing briefs and other communications, and conducting interviews with stakeholders. Arbitrators also evaluate laws, regulations, and other precedents in order to clarify the issues that caused the conflict between the two opposing sides in the first place.
Psychologist – Many trial consultants have a background in psychology to aid them in helping attorneys identify how their case may or may not resonate with potential jurors. Psychologists work on a more micro level, working with individual clients to identify problems, construct solutions, and help their clients develop a better understanding of why they do the things they do. That includes conducting research on behavioral, emotional, and psychological topics, observing and interpreting client behavior, and devising treatment strategies for helping clients overcome their psychological difficulties.
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