Empirical Jury co-founders John and Alicia Campbell will tell you that they stumbled blindly into the field of empirical research.
John Campbell — who practices with his wife Alicia at Campbell Law, the St. Louis firm she founded in 2009 — had taken a teaching position at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. He begun bumping into professors there who were doing empirical research and statistical analysis about a variety of subjects.
“Through that, I came to learn of a growing number of researchers in social science, economics, Google — I mean, all across the board,” he said. “When they wanted to research people, they had made it so that they could do that by recruiting people online. It was sort of work-on-demand — like Uber — a sort of gig economy.”
John Campbell said he began wondering about the feasibility of conducting the same kind of research that would inform lawyers before picking juries for their court cases: Instead of physically bringing people into an office to ask them what they thought about a case, could you present plaintiff and defense sides of the case to them online and gather their thoughts?
Turns out, you can.
“I started doing it in an academic setting,” John Campbell said. “I wanted to start researching how juries acted and whether that matched our intuitions for purposes of publishing research papers.”
As he published those papers, he said, people started approaching him to ask if he could do that kind of work for specific cases.
The first two cases he studied in this way were in St. Louis. Alicia Campbell was working on the first; the other came from John G. Simon of The Simon Law Firm, where John Campbell had practiced previously.
“Instead of having focus groups, we presented those cases to several hundred people online, had them give us their verdict and damages and feedback about what they liked and didn’t, and [what they] understood and didn’t,” John Campbell said. “We had a big-enough sample that we didn’t have to worry about whether we were getting really skewed numbers.”
That’s how Empirical Jury started, though it wasn’t a business at first, he said.
“From there, it grew pretty quickly because we ended up presenting at the Inner Circle [of Advocates],” an invitation-only organization of top U.S. plaintiffs’ lawyers, he said.
Attorneys who saw the presentation began calling and asking the Campbells to study their cases. The business, which has operated in an official capacity since late 2016, has four founders: the Campbells, and Toby and Sheryl Traylor, who handle the software and data-side of the operation.
How it works: The Campbells help Empirical Jury clients to build their plaintiff cases to be presented through text, pictures, video, audio and other formats. From there, the Traylors present the data to paid online participants and generate reports for the Campbells, who analyze the results.
John Campbell said they can diagnose a case’s strength, testing things that do and don’t work with jurors and offering statistically significant predications about who should be seated on the jury to provide an advantage to the client.
“In those three years, we have done a lot of refining,” John Campbell said, adding that the company has helped to obtain more than $425 million in verdicts across the country.
While Empirical Jury mainly works with plaintiffs’ attorneys in civil cases, the company has worked with both defense attorneys and prosecutors in criminal cases.
Empirical Jury handles about 50 cases a year. Each brings its own set of circumstances, but from the moment the case presentation is ready, the company returns information for clients within 20 days. Its predictions usually fall within 10 to 15 percent of the actual verdict, John Campbell said.
“What we are learning is, with enough people and careful work, there’s a little more science and a little less art in law than I think we all thought,” he said. “You can predict with some certainty what people will do. You can predict with some certainty what some cases are worth. You can predict with some certainty the range of likely awards [and] fault allocation.”