We the jury: letting the owners have their say

Thoughts on the real point of juries, and branding.

After an epiphany in court, approved Beg to Differ asks: are you ready for the judgement of your peers?

The Jury 1861 - John Morgan

The day I dreaded

Yesterday, and I did something I’d been dreading for months. Ever since that official looking letter arrived, summoning me to possibly serve on a jury for the first time in my life, I’d been stewing: “How long will the trial last?” “What kind of awful crime will I have to decide on?” and, “How the heck can I get out of this?”

Friends assured me I could just tell the judge I’m a sole proprietor, with three kids and a wife on maternity leave – all of which are true – and I’d probably get excused for “financial hardship”. Other friends suggested wearing a Princess Leia wig or singing show tunes in court, but the financial hardship angle sounded a bit less extreme.

So I showed up at the jury room yesterday with my plan.

Along with 150 other people…

I’d always wondered about the efficiency and wisdom of the jury trial system. The idea of taking a dozen people out of their jobs for days, weeks, or even months, seems counter-productive. Why 12? Why not 10, or 7, or even 3? Many places in the US and elsewhere use only 6 jurors, though Scotland proudly uses 15 for criminal trials. Whatever the number, with many thousands of juries sitting around the world (in 2007, California alone had 16,000!) that’s countless hours of time and billions and billions of dollars in lost productivity.

But yesterday, I realized the full scope of that “inefficiency”. For every 12 people who are chosen, many, many more are not, but still have to take time off work – sometimes days – and do a lot of sitting and waiting.

In my case, there were easily 150 people in the jury pool for yesterday’s case, and there were millionaires and busboys sitting side by side (I know because I met one of each). And yes, there was a lot of cynical eye-rolling, and many people spent their time rehearsing excuses or reading, or playing on their cell phones. It all seemed like such a colossal waste of time. Add to that the vestigial Canadian pomp of lawyers in robes and “long live the Queen,” and it’s a wonder we didn’t all pull a Larry David to get out of this.

But then we were called into the courtroom

Suddenly, we 150 became very quiet, very serious, and a whole lot less cynical.

Because there in the room was a real person. In trouble. And though we knew the person was accused of serious crimes – possibly awful ones – at that point we had no idea what the crimes were, much less whether or not the person was actually guilty. Of anything.

And I think we all realized that if, heaven forbid,  we were ever in that person’s shoes, we would want a careful, thoughtful, and yes,  inefficient process just like this one.

But then my neighbour leaned over and whispered: “You know? This is the world’s largest crime prevention program.” He was joking – kind of.  But in a way, he was also totally right. I’d been looking at trials, juries, and justice the wrong way around.

Jury trials aren’t for the accused; they’re for the community

The point of the jury trial process is about ownership. That is, increasing the visibility, dialogue, and ensuring the meaningful participation of the people who actually own the process in a democracy: normal community members like me, the millionaire, and the busboy.

It’s like voting, election campaigns, and community activism – none of which make any sense from a cold logical efficiency standpoint.  All of these things are important demonstrations of our stake in the democracy game.

And yes, they will also make us think more seriously about crime and punishment, because now those things have a real human face.

But it also got me thinking about business, and brands

Maybe it’s a stretch, but there are all kinds of things businesses do that seem not to make sense. And frankly, many of them just don’t – I write about those all the time.

But some of them make sense in a way that’s hard to quantify on a spreadsheet, but are nonetheless important rituals, gestures, and ways to reach out and let more people connect with the human meaning of what we do.

Charity work, community support, customer dialogue in many forms, and support for employee work / life balance, are just a few of examples of activities that don’t fit neatly on to balance sheets.

I remember a discussion with a professional “community relations” person who once asked me: “why should I worry about what the community thinks of us? What have they done for us lately?”

Um. They ARE you. And they own your brand.

The question is, what are you doing to show them just how important and integral to your success they are?

Because in the end, that’s how you’ll be judged. Not by whether or not you showed up.

YouTube Twelve Angry Men trailer:

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