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Mock Trial Versus Deliberation Group: What Is the Difference?



When most of our clients call, they know whether they want a mock trial versus a focus group design. But within the mock trial family is another design called a deliberation group.

Both are deductive, verdict-driven tests. Both provide juror deliberations. So, what is the difference between these two designs, and when do you select one over the other? These are common questions we answer for our clients as we evaluate the best design to test their research goals.

Similarities and Differences between a Mock Trial and Deliberation Group

While there are differences between a mock trial and deliberation group, they are similar in their goals. Both provide a test of your case themes, arguments, and strategy. At the end of the day for each, jurors will have deliberated to a verdict form, providing insight into their reasoning and which arguments, themes, and/or evidence were or were not persuasive.

Receiving a range of damage assessments is possible for both designs. So, what makes them different? The presentation of evidence.

Mock Trial

In a mock trial, jurors listen to live, adversarial presentations that include opening statements, closing arguments, and case presentations of evidence for each side—as well as key witness testimony (via live testimony of witnesses or surrogates and/or videotaped excerpts), key documents, and draft graphics.

In addition to mirroring the structure seen at trial, the mock trial (unlike the deliberation group) incorporates individual witness testimony into the process.

Deliberation Group

A deliberation group differs from the mock trial because its emphasis is more on thematic development and less on witness testimony. Attorney presenters first provide short, informational openings, then each side is allocated a balanced amount of time to present its “case in chief.” This presentation typically includes key documents and, where appropriate, short excerpts of actual or surrogate witness testimony regarding the integral issues (compared to the longer portrayal of witness testimony for the mock trial).

Following the defense presentation, the parties have a short opportunity to give closing arguments to summarize their themes. As part of closings, the plaintiff is allowed a short rebuttal to minimize the possibility of a false positive.

When to Select a Mock Trial versus a Deliberation Group

When evaluating which design will best inform what the client wants to learn, three main factors should be considered:

1. Witnesses

The first factor is a pure logistical one. If witnesses were not videotaped during discovery, then a deliberation group—which relies heavily on adversarial presentations—is the obvious selection.

Now, if a couple of key witnesses are on video or the decision is made to create a video using a surrogate witness, the deliberation group can also test witnesses via shorter excerpts than the lengthier witness testimony often used in a mock trial.

2. Emphasis of Research

If the key witnesses were videotaped, then the second factor is determining whether emphasis should be on witness evaluations and theme development versus solely theme development. If the former is preferred over the latter, then a mock trial is the better selection.

3. Budget

Regardless of if witnesses are on videotape or not, sometimes a client’s budget dictates the best test design for the research. For instance, a deliberation group is easier to complete in one day, whereas—while it can be done—it is difficult to complete a mock trial in under a day and a half, at minimum.


When it comes to determining the best verdict-driven jury research design for your stated goals, your consultant should ask you specific questions to guide you through the above considerations.

At IMS, we don’t have a one-size-fits-all test design. Our consultants listen to you, refine a list of the issues you want to learn, and design the test around your goals. It is important you are receiving the most out of your jury research, and ensuring you have the best test design is essential.

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