5 Surprising Startup Lessons from Jury Duty

I spent three days this month in a Suffolk County jury pool, and never was interviewed by an attorney. While others were praying their name would not be pulled from the proverbial hat, I prayed that mine would be. Surely there was no way I would be picked for a jury. I used to be a trial lawyer.

It was a needlessly painful selection process--no cell phones, no reading, no drawing while we sat in the hardwood pews--and the same questions were asked monotonously over and over. So, of course, I had ample time to make a number of observations that can be applied to startups for the digital age:

Respect time. The judge directed everyone to arrive each day at 1:30. He did not start voir dire until 2:45 each day. I don't care if you wear robes or otherwise consider yourself to be really important--always respect the time of others. Forget that "time is money." Time is time, the most precious resource of all. When you give your time to others, it truly is a gift. No judge should have the right to unnecessarily deprive any juror of time. Likewise, no employer or entrepreneur should ever forget how precious time is; even paying for it is not enough if it does not yield value.

Delegate. Shockingly, the judge asked each juror one-by-one the same voir dire questions: "Do you know any police officers?" "Do you know any attorneys?" "Have you ever been victim of a crime." "Do you use social media?" Etcetera, etcetera. He followed up with the same commentary each time: "Because if you know police officers, you know that there are some good ones and some bad ones." To virtually EVERY juror. Talk about a grand waste of time! And after that, he had the prosecutor and the criminal defense attorney conduct their own voir dire. Maybe he did this because this is  the way things have always been done. But when conducting any enterprise, "Because things have always been done this way" is one of the worst reasons to do something. Instead, long-standing rituals must be questioned, and responsibilities that could be done quicker and better by someone else should be delegated or outsourced.

Have a gameplan before you "fake it till you make it." I couldn't help but notice that the prosecutor had a stack of thick books on her desk. One of them had the bright yellow "USED" label on the spine that you see on University bookstore textbooks. This particular textbook was called "Trial Techniques." Needless to say, this prosecutor was green, and she shared that fact with her audience. A little foresight would have gone a long way. It also didn't help that, when she clutched the lectern and asked questions, the assistant district attorney asked questions that had no useful purpose, other than try to fill time. For example, she actually asked, "How many people here have had medication prescribed for them?" Yes, you are supposed to lay a foundation, but this prosecutor took "asking questions you know the answer to" to a different level. Why? Because her questions did not lead to any insight. There is a time and place for "faking it until you make it." But speaking without a gameplan--questions that fail to engage or yield substantive answers, or dialogue without a goal--is the easiest way to be exposed as a neophyte. Sometimes, it's better to be quiet if you are not ready to speak.

Shatter stereotypes with authenticity. The defense attorney, a Suffolk County lawyer named Christopher Gioe (with whom I had no familiarity), demonstrated his skills right away. He pushed the lectern away from him, approached the jurors and spoke extemporaneously, regularly making eye contact. A tall, husky, bald gentleman, he reminded the jurors--his audience--that life is not like Law and Order or CSI, and that defense attorneys are not all thin with lustrous flowing locks. His questions led to subtle reminders to any potential juror that "beyond reasonable doubt" is a difficult hurdle to overcome. Sometimes, his thoughtfully-posed questions led to a better understanding of the motivations of jurors themselves. When the final jurors were chosen, they were just as I had predicted in my mind, thanks in part to Mr. Gioe's well-prepared questions, but also because he was more easily able to elicit responses from jurors. Because he came across as a genuine person, not a slick shyster trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes.

Tackle the anticipated conflicts head-on first. I was told by another potential juror that another judge had let her out right away because of childcare conflicts, but then she was put into our jury pool. Apparently, this other judge's approach--a much more effective and thoughtful approach--was to ask everyone collectively if any of them had conflicts or hardships, and focus on those conflicts right away before considering possible candidates for his jury. If the judge at my trial had called on me, I planned to say the following:

"Judge, I have always dreamed of serving on a jury like 'Twelve Angry Men.' But if I were the defense attorney, I would not choose me. I am a former trial attorney. I have a number of friends and acquaintances who are police officers or detectives. I am friends with prosecutors in Suffolk, Nassau, and Queens. This is a DUI case; I have publicly compared terrorists favorably to drunk drivers on social media. I blog regularly. I don't want there to even be the appearance of impropriety. I am the type of potential juror who would have been removed in the first round of selection."

Alas, there were only two rounds of selection for this trial. The judge stretched it out into three days. And they never got to me.

Related: Happy Birthday to Us: 5 Startup Lessons We've Learned as Startup Attorneys