After more than a decade free from contact, the dreaded postcard arrived in the mail: Jury Duty had called.
So, last Tuesday, I made my way to the courthouse, and with a long to-do list and laptop in hand, I naively hoped for strong wifi (it was) and a swift dismissal (it wasn't). Free from distractions, the morning sped by and I mistakenly and prematurely celebrated a day at the courthouse as exactly the thing I needed to catch up on some big projects at work.
Things took a sudden and decisive turn after lunch, when the judge finally called us – (un)lucky Jury Group #7 – into his courtroom. Once seated, we were given the news that our time at the courthouse might extend into early October as twelve of us would be selected as jurors for a major felony case.
That’s the moment I leaned forward, put my work aside, and started paying close attention to the surreal situation unfolding in front of my eyes. I was expecting drama and intrigue; I wasn’t expecting to get schooled on the art of communications, yet that’s exactly what happened:
1. Sell your story (and compel your stakeholders to act)
I always thought that when it came to litigation, the big pitch came during closing arguments, yet I was absolutely blown away by the early, passionate, and personal call to action from the judge on Day #1. Perhaps it was the audible sigh he heard when we learned the details of the case, perhaps it was his decades-long experience on the bench, regardless, our judge knew his very first order of business was to convince a room full of disengaged and unwilling potential jurors to shift their attitudes a full 180-degrees. Miraculously, by weaving a vision of duty and privilege, he did just that, inspiring the better part of a diverse room full of people from all walks of life to stand up and serve, if required.
2. Speak to each of your stakeholders (messaging is never one-size-fits-all)
Our judge was so successful at shifting perceptions by appealing to the myriad personas in his courtroom. For the patriot, he waxed poetic about the duty we had as citizens, the privilege of participating in our uniquely American justice system. For those who were inclined to try all measures to get out of serving, he broke down every legal excuse to the critical components (and let me tell you, it became really clear that half-baked excuses were not going to cut it). And for the curious, he compared the experience of serving on a jury to getting front row seats to a play. Hamilton, here we come!
3. Personas matter (because, after all, they are the decision makers)
The very first thing the judge asked us to do was complete a 50-page questionnaire. Having created a plethora of surveys myself, it was impossible not to study the content of the survey as I was filling it out. The intent of the survey was crystal clear – it was designed to uncover bias, personal experience related to the alleged crime, as well as personal relationships with key players in the case. Based on our responses, we’d clearly be categorized into three primary groups: 1) suspected bias-for the prosecution; 2) suspected bias-for the defense; 3) neutral.
4. Identify your advocates (like your life depends on it)
Armed with our completed questionnaires, Day #2 commenced with rigorous questioning of the jury pool under oath by the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense. The judge is focusing his questions on impartiality, the defense on the assumption of innocence, and the prosecutor on the ability to infer guilt upon a preponderance of evidence. All the while, the prosecution and defense are clearly taking stock of the landscape, noting their detractors as well as the jurors that seem most sympathetic to their case. Ultimately, the make-up of the jury will be determined by a complex card-trading game of sorts whereby the prosecution and defense will try to stack the deck in their favor.
5. Influence the influencers (and it’s never too early to start)
While the actual case itself will be the primary stage on which the attorneys will look to influence the jury, it’s been fascinating to note that they’re already on that path. Even with a room full of prospective jurors – the final twelve not yet identified – the attorneys are offering bits of information and posing questions in ways designed to influence. Assertions made by prospective jurors are being challenged, provocative opinions shared on the written questionnaire read aloud to all, and even the attorneys' own body language seems to be purposeful in its attempt to shift and shape the mindset of those of us still sitting in the jury pool.
I head back to Jury Duty tomorrow, a week into the jury selection process. The wifi is still strong, and while my work to-do list has grown exponentially, there’s no doubt that another day in court will further enforce my appreciation of the art and science of communications done well, no matter the venue. Lessons that will certainly be invaluable once I finally get back to my day-job, be it later this week or in October.