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A mock jury is a group of people assembled to hear a legal case and respond to it, in a “trial” which does not have legal ramifications. Mock juries are used in legal education and legal research to create a trial-like setting for learning which does not involve the actual legal system. The trial may have varying degrees of realism, ranging from being held in a courtroom with a real judge to being conducted informally in a classroom with a student acting as the judge.
In legal research, the purpose of a mock jury is to create a focus group which lawyers can use to explore the dynamics of juries, and to see the way in which juries will respond to their case. Cases can be argued in a number of ways, and sometimes it helps to test out arguments and approaches with a jury, to see how ordinary people might respond to the case. In this case, the mock jury would usually hear an abbreviated version of a trial, which may consist only of primary arguments, with no presentation of evidence, and then the jury deliberates and returns a verdict.
Mock jury research can be expensive, but very useful for committed lawyers. A well argued defense or prosecution can make or break a case, and in high profile or complex trials, jury research may be strongly recommended to give lawyers a better idea of what they are working with. In some instances, arguments which seem sound can backfire in the real world, and lawyers would prefer to learn this in front of a mock jury, rather than in court.
The pool of mock jurors is usually paid, and they may be recruited from a variety of settings. Some firms even offer online mock jury trials, which can cut down on expenses. People who are interested in serving on a mock jury can contact law firms in the area to see if they perform mock jury research, and where they draw their pool of jurors from.
In legal education, mock trials are used to allow students to experience the setting of court so that they can improve their courtroom skills without practicing on real clients or cases. In these cases, the students in a class break up into groups to provide a jury, lawyers for both sides, and a judge. The students may also act as mock witnesses and play other roles in the courtroom, with students learning from the experience of setting up and arguing the trial.
Mock trials actually take place on a competitive level among some law schools. Within a school, students may compete formally or informally, and law schools can also challenge each other to mock trials in more formalized championships. These mock trials can be valuable learning experiences as well as tools for professional advancement.