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Many litigators have grown accustomed to reaching out to jury consultants for advice as trial nears. Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold wants that expertise a little closer to hand. The firm recently took the still rare step of hiring an in-house jury consultant to offer advice on cases in their earliest stages at less cost. “We use more and more jury consultants. It is the way that we practice, develop our themes, test our ideas,” says Sedgwick Chairman Kevin Dunne. “What we have found is that it is not inexpensive.” Robin O’Connor, who previously spent eight years as a trial consultant with Courtroom Sciences Inc., joined Sedgwick last month in the firm’s Dallas office, but will be working with attorneys firmwide. She has a Ph.D. in psychology from North Texas State University and participated in a successful defense of Oprah Winfrey. Having an in-house jury consultant allows lawyers access to cheaper, abbreviated advice, says Dunne. O’Connor has already done one focus group for Sedgwick, assisting the firm in deciding whether to opt for a jury or bench trial. “I think about it like working in an emergency room,” said O’Connor. “To have the most significant impact, it needs to be early on.” Even so, in-house consultants remain more oddity than in vogue. Denver-based Holland & Hart was perhaps the first to take the step, hiring one 15 years ago. Today the 300-lawyer firm has a nine-member group called Persuasion Strategies, which operates as a service of the firm, and includes graphics and media specialists. The members are free to work for other clients and firms — they’ve done work for Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, among others — after an internal conflict check. “We are a revenue source,” says Karen Lisko, a litigation specialist. “I have a billable expectancy, an hourly rate commensurate with the partner rate level.” The group is also a selling point with clients, Lisko said. “It differentiates Holland & Hart from the competition. And the third advantage is that it helps the lawyers.” But Ronald Matlon, executive director of the American Society of Trial Consultants, doesn’t think the trend is going to catch on. “If it would have taken off, it would have taken off by now,” he says. “When I talk to my colleagues who are trial consultants, I’ve never heard them say they have been approached by firms. It’s very, very unusual and there is no trend in that direction.” Still, in-house consultants say having them around can help litigators assess cases in the earliest stages. “With the Columbine [school shooting] tragedy, we were deciding if we would join another law firm in suing on behalf of a teacher,” recalls Lisko. “We did focus-group research just testing out what we knew and nobody else knew, and it gave us high confidence that we were able to bring the lawsuit.” Similar cases on behalf of students at Columbine were thrown out by the judge, says Lisko. But the case on behalf of a teacher was allowed to proceed and eventually settled. One advantage of being in house, Lisko says, is that working with the same attorneys allows her to develop specialized knowledge about the kinds of cases handled by her firm. “We can be responsive and tailor research fairly narrowly,” she says. Some outside consultants, however, see familiarity as a disadvantage. “One of the things we do is bring an independent perspective,” says Emeryville-based consultant Howard Varinsky. Relationships that consultants forge with in-house lawyers can put that independence at risk, he says. “You figure that about 55 to 75 percent of what lawyers think about juries is absolutely wrong, and this mythology is passed on down the generations.” San Francisco-based consultant Art Raedeke, of Versus Litigation Consulting, says he raised the idea of going in house with firms a few years ago. “The response wasn’t terribly enthusiastic,” he recalls. “Because partners wanted to pick their consultants and not be wedded.” A sampling of local litigation partners didn’t turn up much interest in the idea. “We all try to think early on about the fact that cases may go to trial,” says Keker & Van Nest’s Robert Van Nest. “You would have to have a pretty large firm to think about” having an in-house consultant. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner Molly Lane notes that many big cases don’t get to trial. While consultants can help in settling a case, she says, “hopefully, your lawyers are doing some of that as well.” Jack Nelson, in Reed Smith’s Oakland, Calif., office, said his firm has in-house specialists prepare graphics for trial, but said partners would want to be able to call on different consultants for different kinds of cases. While in-house consultants might lower costs for clients, Jonathan Mack, a senior counsel with Hewlett-Packard, says that while he has no objection to the idea, he’d want to have input selecting the appropriate individual for a given case. Dunne says he’s not asking clients to give that up. For the billion-dollar cases he says Sedgwick handles, the firm might seek outside expertise in addition to O’Connor. “But we have a lot of cases where they are not bet-the-company cases,” he adds.

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