Consultant for Trask LLC
Department of Communications:
What is your area of study?
I earned my PhD in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Legal Communication. I chose the University of Kansas predominately because I wanted to work with Dr. Tom Beisecker. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in trial consulting, and he has educated some of the most successful and talented consultants in the field. I researched PhD programs thoroughly, and KU provided opportunities that other schools did not. I was able to take courses specifically in legal communication (quite rare) and work with Dr. Beisecker in his consulting work and research.
What is your current career or position title?
I am a Consultant at Trask Consulting, which is a jury research and trial consulting firm with offices in San Francisco, Houston, and New York. Our practice focuses on civil litigation with an emphasis on complex commercial litigation including intellectual property (patent and trademark infringement, trade secret misappropriation), antitrust, securities, breach of contract and fraud.
What does your day to day work life look like?
My job is awesome. If you’ve seen the television show “Bull,” it is a bit like that— just subtract the Hollywood factor and the ability to resolve massive cases in less than an hour. Attorneys or corporations hire us to help them prepare for various stages of large-scale litigation. This can involve a range of research projects and methods. We work in venues across the United States in both State and Federal courts, and the context and content of the work varies.
For instance, we test the efficacy of case arguments using mock trials and focus groups that are made up of participants who mirror the demographics of the area where the case will be heard. We also prepare witnesses to testify by working on their communication skills, addressing their concerns, and evaluating their individual needs. Using research, we assess which jurors may have underlying biases or life experiences that may make it difficult for them to adjudicate the case without bias or prejudice, and we apply these findings to aid attorneys in jury selection. Additionally, we conduct community attitude surveys, facilitate shadow juries, attend trials, and consult with counsel to shape case themes and strategies.
The communication theory courses I took while at KU have provided me with the framework to address and analyze the patterns and emergent themes that arise during our pre-trial research. For example, I use the information I learned in methodology courses to design rigorous mock trials and facilitate focus groups. Theoretically, I rely heavily on Burke’s notion of terministic screens in an attempt to discern how individuals view and perceive the world.
What is your favorite aspect of your job/career?
All of it. I’m not kidding. I even enjoy writing the reports because the information is fascinating, and the results have real-world implications. The work matters.
If pressed, here are some favorite aspects to highlight:
- Working, problem solving, and collaborating daily with smart and influential people from a variety of fields
- The cases we work on are never the same, so I am consistently learning about diverse fields and industries:
- Computer technology
- Environmental issues
- SEC requirements
- Product liability risks
- Breach of contracts
- Protection of trade secrets
- The PTO and patent process
- Facilitating focus groups and hearing feedback from a wide spectrum of individuals
- Watching hundreds of mock juror deliberations. They are FASCINATING
- Juror sense-making is one of my favorite topics
- Walking through a panel of potential jurors for jury selection
- Observing trial, debriefing, and strategizing with the attorneys
What advice do you have for current graduate students?
Try to keep your ultimate career goals in mind when progressing through your program. Conduct your work and research with an eye towards how it will help you advance along that path. I tried to turn course assignments into papers that I could leverage into conference papers or presentations. The currency of my field is not academic journal publications as it is in most others. It was important for me to recognize that. Instead, it was critical for me to gain practical experience when possible. I worked on pro bono cases, attended jury selections, maintained an internship with Trask Consulting through my Master’s and PhD programs, and I accepted every opportunity presented to me by my advisor.
Benefit from the wisdom of those before you. Network and reach out to others in your field and inquire about the paths they took to get to where you want to be. I took courses that scared me, and I benefited from that experience. My Master’s thesis was qualitative, but I knew I needed a basic understanding of statistics to be competitive in my field. Several professors kindly guided me through quantitative methods and taught me to use SPSS and R.
Take courses outside of your field when possible: you meet new people and learn different skills. I enrolled in Dr. Sousa’s graduate Shakespeare course and wrote what I consider to be one of my best graduate papers on Timon of Athens. Dr. Sousa later graciously agreed to serve as my outside committee member during my comprehensive exams and for the defense of my dissertation.
Consciously work to maintain perspective. I had my son the first year I started my Master’s degree in Texas. He is a living reminder of how long I had been working toward my PhD and career goals. When I graduated in the Spring of 2017, he was seven years old. I benefitted from a busy home and professional life outside of graduate school. My multiple roles helped me set and maintain deadlines (internally and externally imposed) and forced perspective on days when I felt that I was drowning in research, writing, grading, or emails. Maintaining perspective was critical for me, and it still is.