The Great Whiskey Ring Trial courtesy of Cornell University

Although it’s nice to have high paid jury consultants and days to ponder potential jurors, the reality is in most jury trials the lawyer is handed a list of potential jurors minutes before they walk in the Courtroom door.  It’s then up to the lawyer and his client to sift through basic information about the individual (race, religion, profession etc.) and then ask twenty minutes worth of questions to hopefully learn more.  Jury selection is more of an elimination process than a selection process.

With the rise of social networking sites, blogs, and the like, more an more people have some sort of an internet presence.  Trial lawyers, from prosecutors to defense lawyers, are using that information during the jury selection process.  As illustrated in a recent Wall Street Journal article, lawyers are using the net through ipads and laptops to try an obtain information about prospective jurors as they sit in the courtroom.  An example:

Paul Kiesel, a plaintiffs’ lawyer in Beverly Hills, Calif., said his firm ran searches of social-networking sites during the jury-selection process in a recent sex-abuse case involving a Catholic priest. The case was settled, but Mr. Kiesel said the information would have proved invaluable.

"We could glean whether someone was identified with a religion, and get a sense of how devout they seemed to be," he said. "It’s a waterfall of information, compared to the pinhole view you used to get."

Jury selection is but one example of lawyers using Internet research.  Assume that the same information is being obtained for potential witnesses and parties at the outset of a lawsuit.  The point is that social networking information is fair game in Court and it provides a candid look in many instances of the thoughts and predispositions of people. 

This type of research will continue and become more extensive as  individuals develop more and more of an on line history.  Don’t be surprised if within the next few years there are actually services that will provide this type information for a fee – there are already some that do so in the employment background search world.