Chapter One: Making the First Cut
By Charlotte (Charli) A. Morris, M.A.
In Nashville, at the 2015 ASTC Conference, a panel of experienced members led a master class on a wide variety of topics related to the business of being a trial consultant. The audience spilled out into the hallway and even the hallway was standing-room only when I arrived on the scene. The last big topic of conversation was on recruiting for small group research; in fact, it was a conversation that could not be finished in the time we had together and it probably deserves to be a course entirely of its own.
We heard one particularly disturbing story from a friend of mine who reminded us that researching our recruiter himself (e.g., a criminal background check) might be the all-important first step. But beyond the worst of all possible circumstances, it was also clear to me that there remains a host of the more ordinary questions that we all face, and that lesser experienced consultants may not yet know how to address.
I recently made a big move to start a new relationship with a recruiter who handles my business nationwide and that allowed me to re-examine my own screening practices and revisit the protocol I want recruiters to follow. My hope is that other experienced consultants will expand these thoughts with ideas of their own, and that lesser experienced consultants will ask their best questions so that we are all elevated by the process of sharing our collective best practices.
Recruitment for research is highly specific to venue and I do not intend this to be a primer on sampling methodology (although I do recommend some advanced-level teaching/training in it for all practicing trial consultants). This post also assumes we are engaging the services of a professional recruiting firm, although I got my own best hands-on training while in graduate school doing the sampling myself…from a paper phone book, randomly (but scientifically) calling strangers on land lines…that’s how old I am.
We have to first address the question of where a recruiter will find the pool of potential participants from which we will sample. Will the recruiter purchase (and charge your client for) a sample of phone numbers from which it will randomly dial, or will it work from an established database of respondents who are already identifiable by distinct demographic traits?
In my experience if recruiters are even willing to do random digit dialing (some will not), recruiting this way is very expensive because it is labor-intensive and time-consuming. The majority of my clients hire me to conduct small group research on a budget averaging less than $50,000 total (fees and expenses). For that reason, I have come to accept database recruitment with certain basic restrictions in place for every study, regardless of venue and budget.
I offer as a suggestion to readers (and as a requirement of recruiters) the following five solid “first cuts” in the recruitment process.
- Recruitment may not be done by networking; that is, one qualified participant may not recommend another potential participant for the study or share the opportunity with others who then call into the recruiter for screening. If a recruiter is already shooting at its own barrel of fish, it seems unnecessary and maybe even lazy to ask participants themselves to provide more potential participants. Besides, doing so would violate the second rule below.
- Participants must not know each other. In the smallest of venues this can be tricky and it might even be the reason you would consider whether research should be conducted instead in a “match” or adjacent venue. One excellent recruiter I worked with recently had an extensive protocol within its own facility to monitor participant interaction and detect whether any of them knew one another.
- Participants must not have participated in ANY research project for the previous 12 months; no beer tasting, no diaper testing, no political opinion polling. Some folks who get into market research and recruitment databases are “repeat performers” or what I refer to as “professional respondents.” Prospective real jurors do not collect frequent flyer points for serving on juries, so I want my research sample to be equally fresh for the task.
- Participants must not have participated in ANY legal research of any kind. Period. Never before. I realize this all depends on self-report so I rescreen my participants again on the day of the study and I have been able to find (and excuse) the folks who didn’t tell it right on the phone to the recruiter. It may not surprise my colleagues in Florida to hear that my recruiter tells me this is becoming nearly impossible to achieve in many counties there. This is the curse part of the blessing that comes with growth in our field.
- Participants who have been convicted of a felony in the past must have had their rights restored. This is a basic requirement of jury service in every venue where I have ever worked, and I am not too proud to confess that this question has not always been on my boilerplate Screener. It is now, thanks to the reminder by an experienced recruiter.
I have only scratched the surface here with a suggestion or two about how to make the most basic first cuts in the recruitment process. There are more topics for us to explore so I invite more of our most experienced members to take up where this leaves off, and write another post for Deliberations on one or more of the possible next chapters:
- What are my best resources for learning enough about the venue to write a sufficient Screener? What questions should I be asking myself, my client, or a jury clerk before I turn things over to the recruiter?
- For which demographic variables should I set quotas for the recruiter to match and why is this even important if demographics are not predictive of jury decision-making? And what about cases in federal courts where the demographics of the venue may vary a lot from county to county?
- What case-specific connections do I need to screen for and what would disqualify a potential participant? Am I screening out people I think the lawyers would strike at trial, screening out potential threats to confidentiality, or both?
- How often and in what format do I want the recruiter to keep me posted on recruitment? How closely will I monitor and oversee the process and why do I need to if I have hired a professional recruiter?
- What do I want to discuss with my clients about my recruiting methods? What if they don’t care or ask me to cut corners to save money on the project?
I look forward to seeing how others are managing the important (if not also, at times, tedious) task of recruiting for research.
Charlotte (Charli) A. Morris, M.A. is a trial consultant who lives in Raleigh and works wherever the cases take her. She has taught, written and consulted on a wide variety of topics related to litigation and communication since 1993. When she is not on the road running research, she practices the fine art of persuasion on her three highly verbal children. Find out more at www.trial-prep.com or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.