Making the Case

Jim Wren, professor of law at the Baylor Law School, believes that a legal education should prepare students to do more than think like lawyers – it should equip them to deliver solutions for their clients.

Knowing the law and how it applies to a client’s situation is just the beginning. Attorneys must also be able to make difficult choices about the most impactful way to present a case to a trial jury.

To help him prepare his students to be the most effective advocates for their future clients, Wren applies research methodologies from a variety of fields to the practice of litigation, including a quantitative social science technique that was originally developed for business contexts.

“This research began with asking to what extent we could identify the most persuasive elements of a case and predict the response of potential jurors,” Wren says. “We want to know how we can find people who are more likely to respond to particular elements of a case and more accurately predict how a particular jury will respond. Lawyers make choices about what to emphasize; this doesn’t change the story we tell, but it might change the way it’s presented.”

Some of Wren’s most recent research involves a technique called Rule Developing Experimentation (RDE), which was developed by Dr. Howard Moskowitz and marketing researchers seeking a more precise method of maximizing a product’s consumer appeal. It involves presenting research subjects with prototypes containing randomly selected features and studying which combinations of features the subjects prefer. Using regression analysis, researchers can then identify attributes that make subjects more l ikely to prefer certain features.

In one early application of the technique, a manufacturer found that consumers often said they liked their coffee “strong” or “smooth,” but the company was unable to translate that feedback into new blends that increased sales. Using RDE techniques, researchers presented taste testers with multiple coffee samples, each created using different blends of beans that gave the samples unique flavor profiles. RDE allowed the company to determine which of a large number of potential blends were most favored by specific segments of consumers. Even more importantly, they were able to identify naturally occurring traits in the consumers that predicted which blend of coffee they would prefer and the form of marketing to which they would be most responsive.

In a legal context, Wren says that RDE improves on traditional methods of jury research by revealing clues to jurors’ preferences that can’t be discovered through simple demographic analysis or focus groups.

“The demographics of a jury are a mere clue to possibilities, but they don’t always tell the whole story,” he says. “This research helps us to go beyond demographics and find out what people’s attitudes are likely to be in ways that are relevant to the case.”

Wren’s passion for applying and testing theory makes him a great fit at Baylor Law School, where solving contemporary legal problems through research is a critical part of helping prepare students for success.

“Being active in research helps keep me and my colleagues at the forefront of our field,” he says. “By bringing together disparate research from different fields and explaining how to use it for trial law, we can give our students the best possible preparation for practice.”