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Fingers Crossed for…Jury Duty?

November 2, 2011

Kahlil Williams, a Philadelphia native, is a first-year associate at an international law firm based in New York City. His most recent guest contribution to the PhiLAWdelphia blog was a reflection on the executions of Troy Davis and Lawrence Brewer.

Since my last post, I’ve had numerous disappointments, including the Phillies’ NLDS implosion, and the failure of the Wide-9 Defense. But perhaps the biggest letdown of the last few weeks is that I was summoned for jury duty but wasn’t selected.

Non-lawyers like Liz Lemon and Larry David would find this a cause for celebration. But as a newly minted lawyer, I arrived at the Criminal Justice Center hoping to apply some law to some facts, to observe the attorneys’ performance after having taken a trial practice class, and to participate in the deliberation process. But instead, I was summarily dismissed shortly after lunch with a check for $9. And as I walked home, I wondered, “Will I ever get another chance to serve on a jury?”

Lawyers are often stricken during voir dire. One line of thinking behind this phenomenon is that lawyers are more likely to apply the law dispassionately, rather than being swayed by personal stories of the parties or by the personal appeal of their attorneys. And, as for law students, they’re a prosecutor’s nightmare—they’re taught to scrutinize every angle of a case, to push back against what they’re being told, and to think for themselves rather than as part of a group. However, these types of skills are important for ensuring accurate verdicts, which raises the question of whether the exclusion of lawyers from the voir dire process is detrimental to the administration of justice.

I don’t have enough experience to know the answer. Prior to law school, I served on a jury in an aggravated assault case and was selected as the foreman based on my undergraduate background in political science, which included a couple classes in Con Law and Administration of Justice. I remember feeling pressure—imagine what actual lawyers must feel—to promote discussion among all the jurors and weigh all the evidence. I also remember the anxiety among other jurors to return a verdict quickly, lest they miss work or other obligations.  As trial attorneys must know, not everyone thinks of jury duty as a hands-on field trip; it can be time-consuming, boring, and disruptive to one’s daily life. Given those issues, it’s too bad that those that might enjoy (or at least respect) jury duty the most often don’t get to serve.

My experience is limited, so I’d love to hear from others on this issue. For trial attorneys, are lawyers really any better or worse as jurors?  For lawyers in general, do you feel more responsibility as a juror? And would you prefer a system where lawyers were more frequently selected to serve as jurors?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Doug permalink
    November 2, 2011 3:47 pm

    Great post. A few months ago I received a jury notice. Like you, I sat in the courtroom with my fingers crossed hoping not to be eliminated. It was a small personal injury case, and somehow (I’m still not sure exactly how), I wasn’t eliminated.

    During voir dire I tried to give short responses and because of my (primarily) tax background, the attorneys seemed to view me as innocuous.

    I took this as a special opportunity (one I might never get again). And I spent almost as much time observing the other jurors as I did the case. Frankly, I was surprised at how engaged and serious they were. Far from the stereotypes – these were smart, sensible people who really took their jobs seriously.

    In the end, I barely participated in deliberations (I didn’t really need to). I explained the concept of comparative fault at one point, but that’s about it. The process seemed to work fine with or without me.

  2. November 4, 2011 6:30 pm

    Similar thing happened to me. I waited all day and never even got to voire dire. Never saw a judge. Basically I got to eat lunch at chillis, since I wouldn’t walk down there on a normal work day.

  3. jlharrisesq permalink
    November 7, 2011 3:10 am

    Glad you had a good experience, Doug. I’d guess Aneesh’s and Kahlil’s experiences were more representative. Personally, I was picked for a criminal jury as a law student in DC, but the trial was never completed due to defense counsel illness. Since then, I have been called for duty twice but not selected, although I would like to serve. This small sampling seem to support the point that lawyers find jury duty intriguing but are rarely chosen. That level of interest in serving seems to me a good reason to pick attorneys if there isn’t any cause to expect bias. But I doubt the conventional wisdom against picking attorneys will change anytime soon.

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