Attorney Steve Estey on Successfully Using Focus Groups and Reptile Theory

March 26, 2013

By Mia Taylor

SAN DIEGO  – When a Los Angeles jury decided to award $23 million in December to a molestation victim who attended school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the decision was noteworthy for many reasons.

The $6.9 million in damages, awarded because LAUSD failed to properly supervise one of its 5th grade teachers, is believed to be the largest verdict ever leveled against the school district in a molestation case involving a single victim.

The case also represented yet another example of Attorney Steve Estey’s successful use of focus groups in preparation for trial and the incorporation of the theories outlined in Reptile by David Ball and Don Keenan.

“We have used the theories set forth in Reptile in our last three trials,” Estey, of the San Diego firm Estey & Bomberger, said. “Each of those trials resulted in eight-figure verdicts…This stuff really works.”

Reptile Theory
Reptile is a theory that’s based on threatening people’s safety or the propagation and safety of their genes. Or in the case of a reptile – threatening the species and thus inspiring the reptile to fight for its survival and minimize dangers, Estey explained.  When the reptile’s survival is threatened, it responds by shifting into survival mode, or into action. Thus, according to the theory, if you can tap into a jury’s fears, that will often inspire the jury to action.

“As part of Reptile, we look at points that ultimately make a jury angry, that make them do something, or get them to act,” Estey explained. “The jury gets really angry when kids aren’t protected. When people don’t do that, juries get really upset and want to make sure justice is done.”

Focus Groups
Key to Estey’s successful use of Reptile however, is the firm’s use of focus groups – another factor that differentiates Estey & Bomberger from other attorneys.  On the first floor of their downtown San Diego office, Estey & Bomberger have constructed a state-of-the-art focus group room and they conduct dozens of focus groups before ever going to trial. The goal of the repeated focus groups is to identify exactly what issues matter to people and what issues don’t.  The process is costly and time intensive, but both Estey and partner Mike Bomberger feel it’s a specialty that they offer clients and an integral part of their repeated success.

“99.5 percent of firms are not doing focus groups,” Estey said. “We didn’t do them for the first 15 or 16 years. But when you start doing them, you realize how helpful and important they are,” Estey said. “And you wonder why you never did them before.”

“By the time we get to trial, we know what makes people upset and we know what they don’t care about. So the trial is the easy part,” Estey said.

In 2010, Estey tried a molestation-related case in San Jose, California, that resulted in a $30 million verdict, the largest verdict in history for a single-person sex abuse case.