Jaideep Shergill: The science of deduction…

20 Feb,2017

By Jaideep Shergill


Ever since I can remember, I have always been fascinated with true crime. In some vicarious way, we all are, aren’t we? Even today, I watch everything I can and read every book/article I can lay my hands on about the inner workings of both civil and criminal cases and their ramifications. Of course, in our world of entertainment, we have so many great shows from Sherlock to True Detective which give us enough and more to chew on.


One of the most televised cases in modern history will certainly be the OJ Simpson trial back in the 1990s. The fact that Simpson got away made it only bigger and badder. I remember the case vividly as those were the early days of cable TV and news in India and we used to watch the updates glued to our TV sets (mostly communal TV watching back then as some of you would remember) even as the “trial of the century” played out in America and all over the world.


Now, many years later, as I scarfed down the FX show, The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, I was captivated all over again. As a communications professional, there are just so many learnings on how marketing and PR can play such a big role in the decision making process and in influencing outcomes of such trials, how “spin doctoring” and leaks can sway the news media and how the media is opportunistic in making hay while the sun shines over and over again.


However, once fascinating aspect which stood out for me was the usage of data, analytics and insights in the way the jury was selected, data was mined and graphics were created for the courtroom battle. As I dug deeper, I chanced upon Jeffrey Toobin’s book, The Run of His Life: The People versus O.J. Simpson, upon which the TV show is based and then I came upon the name Donald Vinson and the company he founded, Decision Quest.


As Toobin describes in his book, Donald Vinson was literally the guy who invented the field bringing focus groups, market research and survey’s to the world of lawyering in America. He sold his first research company dedicated to research for litigation services to Saaatchi&Saatchi in 1987 and then after his non compete ended in 1989, he started from scratch and founded Decision Quest. http://www.decisionquest.com.


By the time of the Simpson trial (Toobin writes) Vinson employed two hundred people and had an itch for bigger challenges and a wider stage. Vinson was the one who worked with the prosecution on focus groups and panels and his insights were invaluable in the early stages of the case. However, Marcia Clark and her team went with their gut versus scientific research and that was probably the first of many mistakes the they made which eventually led to many other acts of ineptitude which eventually lost them the case. Could have been a different story altogether if the relevant pieces of research and insights had been considered.


Today, Decision Quest continues to thrive and is a leader in the Litigation Research and Consulting space in the U.S. Their website lists an impressive service offering including: Litigation Research and Consulting, Litigation Graphics Consulting, Presentation Technology, Strategic Consulting, Jury Research Services, Public Relations, among others.


This got me thinking from an India perspective and clearly it’s such a huge area of opportunity to explore in the context of our legal system and the machinations of everything within the opaque world of legal wrangling’s we are all exposed to time and time again. I, for one, believe there is a massive opportunity to use strategic communications, data and insights in the area of litigation in India. Frankly, I don’t think we (as an industry) have or are doing enough to be able to add real value to clients in this area. Hopefully, we too will be able to invest in this very critical area of expertise. Hope all my friends in the communications industry in India are listening…


Decision Quest and others like them have truly turned research, insights, storytelling and PR and communications into a science for a very specific yet very powerful audience who will always need these services for time immemorial. May their tribe increase!


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