This model is an area of specialty for Bret Dillingham Trial Consulting. In an unpacking group there is no attorney presentation. Participants are instead helped by the facilitator to “unpack” the known case facts in a pre-determined sequence. This is done through discussion and the use of video clips, exhibits and documents. The trial team observes via closed-circuit TV or one-way mirror as participants consider and question each newly unpacked aspect of the case.
As the group progresses, panelist questions are answered in two ways: new case facts are unpacked by the facilitator or participants answer their own questions based on speculation and personal experience. By noting the questions asked, the trial team learns what facts are most important to a group of individuals trying to make sense of the case. Research shows that jurors make sense of cases by constructing narratives, or stories, and by relating the case facts to stories they already know based on their life experiences. An unpacking group allows the trial team to observe the story-making process in action, and learn which stories help and which stories hurt the case.
As the discussion evolves, individual participants will also begin to take positions on the case, allowing the strengths and weaknesses of the case to come into focus. Ultimately, panelists are given all the case facts and asked to reach decisions about the case in both a group deliberation and on individual verdict questionnaires. All of these results are compiled and presented in a brief, practical summary of findings focused on converting what was learned into usable settlement or trial strategy.
Such groups are excellent tools in providing the trial team with a “reality check” on verdict expectations, finding case strengths and weaknesses, developing voir dire strategy and opening statement themes and language, as well as providing an opportunity to test out and refine exhibits, test the effectiveness of key witnesses and get reactions to key documents and evidence.
The typical length of such a group is four hours. Most often one group is done in the morning and another in the afternoon, with 10 to 12 panelists participating in each group.