Four Disadvantages of Online Mock Trials

Because of the coronavirus, many of our interactive activities – like mock trials and focus groups – have switched to an online format. Courts are conducting the Zoom jury trials and experiencing the advantages and disadvantages to that format. There are many advantages to getting mock juror feedback online. While online mock trials can provide useful information about case themes, it is important to keep in mind the following potential shortcomings of online mock trial and focus group research:

Fewer Participants in Discussion Groups

For online jury exercises, we have found that the maximum number of participants in a discussion session is nine people. When discussion groups are larger, you are less likely to get useful information from all participants.

Shorter Duration

It is more difficult for participants to focus on presentations and to complete online questionnaires while they are not participating in-person. Before the pandemic hit, we did not recommend conducting an online mock trial exercise of longer than four hours.  However, we’ve concluded, from our recent projects, that longer online mock trials still provide quality feedback on key case issues and presentation style. Still, we don’t recommend going for more than six hours in a single day.

More Difficult to Assess Non-Verbal Communication Cues

It is often more difficult to assess participants’ engagement and comprehension when they are not in the same room.  Encouraging online mock jurors to use the chat function in the online platform provides an opportunity for mock jurors to express their views, but some non-verbal cues may be missed during online mock trials.

Security Concerns

The screening and online surveys completed by participants prior to our research exercises reveal those mock jurors who have connections parties or potential witnesses.  Participants are not allowed to complete our online surveys unless they provide an assurance of confidentiality.  Participants show us their driver’s license at the beginning of the research to confirm their identity, and their eligibility as jurors.  However, as is true with in-person research, some participants may be tempted to reveal the substance of the case to others.  While we take steps to minimize this at every stage of our research, attorneys should be aware of this risk.