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Beyond the Bio: A Spotlight on Aref Jabbour & Nick Polavin


At IMS, we believe our people are our greatest asset. In honor of our incredible team, we are thrilled to go “beyond the bio” and share the personal stories of employees across our organization.

The level of insight and strategy provided by the IMS jury consulting department is unrivaled in the industry. Drs. Aref Jabbour and Nick Polavin are not just jury consultants—they are scholars, researchers, and trial strategists. They each understand what it means to reflect “Humble Confidence” and “Operate as One” in order to provide our clients with accurate, actionable data and help them reduce uncertainty before trial. Read on to learn how Aref and Nick discovered this field, what they enjoy most about their work, and what trends they’re following.

Note: Since this spotlight was published, Aref Jabbour has left IMS to pursue other opportunities.

Aref Jabbour, PhD, IMS Senior Jury Consultant

Aref Jabbour is an experienced jury consultant, having supported clients in hundreds of jury research projects and trials in venues across the country. His expertise has been invaluable as the IMS jury consulting department continues to grow and evolve in order to best serve our trusted clients. When Aref is not creating insightful questionnaires or analyzing data from mock trials, focus groups, and community attitude surveys, he can often be found speaking at legal industry conferences.

Q: How did you get into this industry?

A: I essentially fell into this industry and then fell in love with it. I had finished my dissertation and my PhD in clinical psychology, and I practiced briefly but wanted to do something different. This was 16 years ago when I didn’t know that jury consulting existed. I happened to meet a friend of a friend who worked in the field, and after I looked into it further, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine the aspects I enjoyed most: writing, research, and talking to people.

Q: Why did you choose IMS?

A: I had been in the jury consulting industry for about 15 years—first with a company based in Atlanta and then one in California. During that time, I met people from The Focal Point (just before they were acquired by IMS) and started to consider changing companies to find a better cultural fit. The more I talked to the TFP/IMS team, the more impressed I was by the process and methodology. I wanted to be in a better environment, and this felt like the right place to land.

Q: What do you like most about your specific department/role?

A: There is a breadth of perspectives within our jury consulting department. We are a diverse team, and each person brings a different experience in terms of our educational background, our path to this field, and our scientific approach. The ability to unite all these pieces together is what makes our work so strong.

Internally, there is also a lot of dedication and effort put forward to give us the resources needed to manage our schedules and balance our professional/personal lives. I’m very impressed with that aspect of the company. I thought it was lip service at first; I stand corrected.

Q: What do you think sets IMS apart from competitors or other companies?

A: It's my first time being in a company that's growing this quickly. I’ve heard stories of other companies in this industry that have grown in similar ways, but I don’t feel IMS is experiencing any of the same issues that plagued the others. There is a shared vision here for growing with the right services and the right people in the right way.

Acquiring Litigation Insights was a major positive move. I knew people from their team before they joined IMS, and I was confident that bringing this caliber of talent on board was the best way to expand. When you add in our unique expert witness offerings, it really sets IMS apart. It’s exciting to teach existing clients about our full suite of services—the tech and the graphics are all in-house too.

Q: How do the IMS core values align with your own?

A: “Humble Confidence” is the most important to me, because combining humility with confidence helps you command so much more respect. When I was learning about IMS and choosing my next career move, I talked to leadership about core values and saw how this value was reflected from the top of the company down. It’s evident in how everyone approaches their work and how they interact with colleagues and clients—even when it’s tough.

Q: If you were an attorney-client, what would you find most valuable about the process at IMS?

A: IMS is really adept at tailoring solutions for different clients. Oftentimes, it has to do with budget, so we’re very conscientious about the level of how much we're proposing and what the realistic expectations are. It’s all based on solid communication with our clients and knowing what they need and the best way to get that done. We try to structure things in a way to prevent surprises and be as transparent as possible.

We also have such a breadth of experience across our team that when clients ask if we’ve worked in a specific jurisdiction, there will invariably be someone who has. Even if it's not a jury consultant, but maybe a trial tech or graphic designer or someone who’s done strategy work, that venue will have been touched somehow.

Q: Do you have any predictions or comments on industry trends?

A: I hope that it gets to the point where jury consulting specifically becomes something that lawyers and companies use as a proactive tool as opposed to just being reactive, i.e., losses are filed, or they’re headed to trial. That's most of the time when we are engaged, but I'm constantly trying to convince folks and discuss the virtues of being part of the legal team that evaluates and assesses what’s going to happen, rather than figuring out what to do about things after the fact. I hope early strategy like this becomes something that’s really emphasized and made to be second nature.

With regard to litigation trends, many of us have given talks about nuclear verdicts with very large damage awards and what’s going on with the value of money, and the psychology behind all that. That’s been the hot topic. What prompts and perpetuates these nuclear verdicts? How can we prevent them? What kinds of cases are more susceptible?

Another area I’ve been thinking about lately is the fact that the modern public is more exposed to trials—whether it be Elizabeth Holmes, Ghislaine Maxwell, or Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. They can see what happens inside the courtroom and read articles, and a lot of the stories are sensationalized just like everything else. Jury selection is also in the news in some cases. I think there is more general awareness in the public’s mind as to what goes on in legal proceedings, so it will be interesting to see how that affects our future jury pools.

Q: What has been your favorite case to work on so far?

A: Some of my favorite cases (pro bono or not) are those when you see your effort going toward the greater good. It’s especially rewarding in large national cases when everyone on the team gets to contribute in their own way and see their work making a real impact.

Nick Polavin, IMS Jury Consultant

Nick Polavin originally planned to become an attorney, but as a jury consultant at IMS, he has found the best of both the legal and social science worlds. Nick spends countless hours in the courtroom with our clients, helping them with voir dire development and jury selection strategy, and he has a strong background in research design and statistical analysis. In fact, Nick recently developed a survey to assess the impact of conspiracy theories on modern jurors.

Q: How did you get into this industry?

A: I had always wanted to be a lawyer. I interned at a few law firms and was a paralegal at the Manhattan DA's office, and I realized that lawyers don’t go to trial as often as I had hoped, which was my true interest. I told one of my undergrad professors (who taught persuasion) about my conundrum, and he recommended I look into jury consulting. I hadn’t known the field existed, but I realized this was my path and decided to go to grad school to become a jury consultant. I studied communication and social psychology, with an emphasis on how different types of messages affect decision making.

Q: Why did you choose IMS?

A: During grad school, I had already interned at one jury consulting firm and contracted with another when I saw Merrie Jo Pitera present at a conference. I spoke to her afterward, and she invited me to reach out when I graduated to see if her company, Litigation Insights, was hiring. I did, and they were! I worked as a contractor at first, but I’ve been full-time for three years now—and of course Litigation Insights has since joined with IMS.

Q: What do you like most about your specific department/role?

A: My favorite aspect is how many different types of cases we’re able to work on. We mostly do civil, but we've also done criminal cases and they’re pretty high profile, so it's fun to work on cases that are under a national spotlight. On top of that, I like that we're able to help shape the strategy for all these different types of cases.

I really enjoy jury selection as well. It's tiring, but it's an adrenaline rush, like a chess match. You’re busy throughout the whole process—digging up information on jurors, trying to get your cause challenges granted, figuring out who to strike and who the other side might strike—and just playing that game. It’s all about finding people who will be receptive to your arguments and figuring out how to remove those who won’t be able to see your side of the case.

Q: What internal accomplishment are you most proud of?

A: We worked on a toxic tort matter against a large corporation, but there was also a smaller co-defendant, which lead to the case being tried in a more rural venue. The judge told the panel that it was the biggest case that community had ever seen, and potential jurors were reversing their original anti-corporate questionnaire responses because they wanted to serve on the panel. Therefore, we had few cause challenges and needed to make difficult decisions when it came to exercising our strikes.

I fought to keep one juror in particular because we discovered from social media research that she was skeptical and likely wouldn’t buy into plaintiff claims without solid proof. We needed jurors who could see past the other side’s questionable science. I learned in post-trial interviews that this juror ended up being the strongest voice in support of our client. The jury ruled in favor of our client, and it was rated in the top 10 most impressive defense verdicts of the year.

Q: What do you think sets IMS apart from competitors or other companies?

A: First, the quality of our research methodology. It’s one of the main reasons I wanted to work for Litigation Insights in the first place and why I continue to work for IMS. We know that we're not just getting results, but accurate results. We’d never give our clients findings and recommendations based on bad social science. The software used in our jury research projects also allows clients to receive real-time survey results and filter responses based on demographics and additional questionnaire data. It’s tools like these that really bring our service up another notch.

Additionally, IMS has amazing resources to support our jury consulting team, even beyond our casework. Recently I was able to conduct an online survey about conspiracy beliefs and how they impact jurors’ views. I am looking forward to analyzing this survey data and using the results to help our clients better prepare their trial strategies in today’s climate.

Q: How do the IMS core values align with your own?

A: This goes back to what I said about the quality of our jury research and the accuracy of our results. The IMS core value “Quality & Excellence” is very important to me. I invested a lot of time in learning quality social science practices, and I’m happy to be part of an organization that shares my high standards.

“Operate as One” has also been a big thing for me; I really like the team aspect of our department and the company as a whole. Especially when I'm in jury selection, it's very long hours, but there are people behind the scenes who are always asking how they can help—even if it’s 11:00 p.m. in their time zone. The work is not just falling on a few shoulders; we all support each other and share the weight when we can.

Q: If you were an attorney-client, what would you find most valuable about the process at IMS?

A: The greatest benefit to our clients is the wealth of experience within the IMS jury consulting department. We have team members who are specialized in every aspect—from jury research to case strategy to witness prep to jury selection. I’m just a few years into this industry, but I’m learning from the best of the best. IMS clients have access to that same level of expertise and insight across our company for the entire life of their case.

Q: Do you have any predictions or comments on industry trends?

A: The political landscape has drastically shifted lately, which is connected to increased social media use. Everyone has access to it, and it’s led a lot of people to buy into conspiracy theories because they’re so much more visible. We’re also encountering people we wouldn’t have come across before the internet. Now that it’s easy to find a few thousand “friends” who agree with you (even if they live in another state or country), we are seeing more conspiracy thinkers on both ends of the political spectrum.

Plaintiffs already lean toward conspiracy arguments (i.e., “You know the company paid the experts to say the product is safe”) so if modern jurors are more likely to see and subscribe to conspiracy theories, it poses a big risk for clients who rely on established organizations like the FDA, CDC, EPA, and OSHA. It’s really changing the jury profile for these types of cases. I conducted my survey because I’ve seen this trend in recent mock trials and jury selections. You can hear it in voir dire when we ask about views on the FDA and people say, “It's a revolving door of corporate executives going there to dismantle regulations, and they go right back to the corporation to make millions of dollars off of the regulations that they got rid of.” Potential jurors can easily access in-depth, damaging information from documentaries or docuseries and may generalize their biases to all corporations. People tend to think, “Well if these few companies did it, all of them do that.”

Learn More

In addition to their notable professional contributions and unwavering client service, we are grateful to Aref and Nick for sharing their personal stories and contagious passion for legal strategy and social science.

Visit the links below to meet our team and read more about the IMS culture and career opportunities.