FYI Jury Duty is Actually Great

image via Freerange Archives (CG Collection)

(OK: it’s great unless someone died or was abused or some other traumatic event happened—that would be horrible and would make jury duty horrible. But in general, it rocks.)

I was selected as a juror a few weeks back for a personal injury lawsuit. I served on the trial for five days. I thought I was supposed to dread jury duty—everyone groaned and offered tips to get out of it when I told them I’d been summoned—so when I got chosen, I dreaded it. But after day 1 of the trial, I was loving it, and after day 2, I was practically skipping home. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Here’s why:

It’s Mentally Challenging & Intellectually Rewarding

You have to really pay attention when a witness is on the stand—you’ll likely never get to hear that testimony again, and testimony is everything. Between the actual words a witness is speaking, their body language, and your background cognition of assessing their credibility, your brain is firing on all cylinders and you’re furiously taking notes. And it’s a very important use of your brain, which I appreciated so much. I know that sounds weird, but it was a really good feeling for me to leave the courthouse at the end of the day knowing I’d devoted my daily brainpower to something with serious, direct impact on lives.

It’s a Fascinating Study in Human Behavior

I positively marveled at the performance on display by both the witnesses and attorneys. Of course the lawyers were skilled influencers*, but even knowing they’d be doing their persuasion thing, I delighted in studying the specific words they chose, the phrasing in which they delivered them, the intentional pauses and suggestive facial expressions… To be able to send all those verbal and non-verbal cues while also laying out a narrative and adjusting to a witness’s sometimes-unpredictable testimony was super impressive.

As for witnesses, here’s one thing I now know (as much as one can know after only one trial): When in question, it is human nature to oversell. Every single witness—even those who had no skin in the game and were only there because of some non-controversial information they had—seemingly felt compelled to over-explain each point they tried to make.

Attorney: Was the treadmill in that position?

Witness: Yes, it was like that…[should stop talking here, but:] and in fact, I’ve stubbed my toe on it several times!

Attorney: Oh? So you have been in the exercise room several times, you would say?

You see how this gets people into trouble. And yet every person up there under oath did it. Amazing.

It’s the Most Down Time You’ll Ever Have on a Work Day

I finished a book and took a few short online courses during my jury service. There’s a ton of waiting around—the courts move (necessarily) slowly and there’s a lot the jury isn’t allowed to see or hear—and it’s lovely. Well it’s lovely if you like quiet free time.

You aren’t allowed to talk about the trial or even review your notes until you’ve heard all witnesses’ testimony and deliberation formally begins. So when the jury is excused from the courtroom, as it often is, you’re free to occupy your brain with whatever. (You can chat with your fellow jurors about anything but the trial, which I did do some—but usually I’d dive straight into my studies.) Each day of jury duty, I loaded up my backpack with a book, a notebook, and my laptop and practically giggled in excitement over the idea that I’d likely have so much time for learning and thinking. It was just the best.

It’s a Ready-Made Opportunity for Civic Service

The judge on my case said “thank you for your service” to my fellow jurors and me several times throughout the process, and at first it felt weird. I’d only heard that phrase used in addressing members of the military and government officials, and their service is far more significant than the handful of days I spent deciding whose fault the trip over the treadmill was. But as I was reminded, my participation in jury duty enables our judicial system to work like it does. Some people don’t show up** when they’re called for jury service—sometimes for legit reasons, sometimes because they feel they have more important things to do—so even just being there matters.

I think many of us would like to contribute more to our communities and country, but we need a little nudge to get started. If you’re not a Leslie-Knope-type who knows the ins and outs of public service, the whole “getting involved” thing can feel intimidating. Listen: Being called for jury duty can be that nudge! In my experience, the judge, bailiff, and others go out of their way to make the process as smooth and stress-free as possible—no sweat. It’s a well-organized, already-scheduled chance to perform a civic duty. Take it!

And seriously, don’t dread it.

 

*well, one of them was. The other was comically bad.

**the consequences of skipping vary from nothing to fines to jail time. Just go.

 

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