In his new weekly column in Law360, DOAR’s real-life New York City Jury Consultant and Psychologist reviews the fictional NYC Jury Consultant/Psychologist on the television series “Bull,” focusing on what litigation is really like in the trenches.
In season one, episode one: “The Necklace,” we are introduced to Dr. Jason Bull, a jury consultant with a psychology background who runs a New York City firm with a variety of specialists, such as a stylist from Vogue who dresses witnesses, someone from Homeland Security, and a young woman who we know is a hacker because she wears a ski hat and is named Cable. (Suggestion for the production company: You are allowed to give notes on the scripts).
The Case of the Smirky Teen
In this episode, a rich, jaded teenage boy has been charged with murdering his girlfriend. His father and attorneys arrive at Bull’s offices where Bull has already run 18 (!) mock trials, seemingly before meeting the attorney or client. Bull is abrasive and unpleasant to the client and attorney, and seems to be performing a wide variety of services without getting any clearance, but this does not stop him from doing what he does, because, as you know, New York City litigators and wealthy people are pushovers. (Bull later demands that the partner step aside and have the meek associate take over the trial, and this is also accommodated.) Bull’s team studies every detail of the mock jurors, including the bumper stickers on cars. (Note to producers: No one but Kramer and Jerry drive cars in Manhattan.)
“Bull” stars Michael Weatherly, with Geneva Carr and Freddy Rodriguez.
Soon the actual trial starts in which the attorney is coerced to ask Bull’s voir dire question, “How do you catch a cold?” When a juror protests, the attorney scolds her that she is required to answer the question while the judge sits quietly and obliviously as judges do.
Bull recruits a “mirror jury,” matching each actual juror down to their every psychological detail. It remains a bit unclear how his geniuses are able to do deep internet searches to uncover things like whether the juror had a distant relationship with her father, and equally unclear how likely it is to be able to find a match for most of these psychological issues and relationship histories, but that is why Bull has a Scooby Doo van full of geniuses at his disposal.
Throughout the show, big events occur, but soon everyone forgets and moves on. Every witness has Perry Mason-style emotional outbursts. At trial, the defense attorney gives cross-examinations, which are lengthy accusatory speeches without questions, unencumbered by objections. During a break, for some reason, the victim’s father shoots at the defendant’s father, but all seem pretty unfazed by this and the plot moves forward. Bull steals the attorney’s watch and bugs it, as is common practice in jury consulting. Cable, the hacker, finds unfavorable bondage photos from the defendant’s snapchat files, which then get leaked to the press, and yet no one seems at all concerned and Cable remains employed.
Eventually, Bull looks into the soul of one of the jurors and realizes she has a relationship with her son that can be evoked by the defendant. The defendant comes out as gay on the stand (to which his attorney inexplicably asks, “Is that where you were that night?”), and this leads the juror to convince the others that he is not guilty.
After the trial, Bull, because he is on the side of Justice, shows up with the police to arrest the mother of the defendant’s friend while she strokes a necklace. I will not explain why, not because it is a spoiler, but because it is incomprehensible.
Is That What Jury Consulting is Like?
In all, the services that Bull provides would be unfeasibly time-consuming, overly invasive to trial jurors as well as often ineffective, and remarkably expensive, but there are two elements of jury consulting that the show gets right.
First, the most sophisticated element in the show was the focus on Bull discerning which jurors would be most influential and then altering trial strategy to focus on those jurors’ needs. This is actually good practice, difficult to accomplish, and it makes a meaningful difference in trial outcome. Perhaps future episodes will focus more on this type of actual technique, rather than the “gazing upon the jurors’ damaged psyches” aspects of jury consulting.
Second, jury consultants are remarkably charismatic and handsome.
Next week, more Bull analysis, and more “Bull” analysis.