Not Your Father’s Jury Duty Anymore

About three weeks ago, I received the dreaded notice in the mail. I immediately thought of 100 reasons why I should be dismissed and a good number of excuses for how I could get out of it.

What am I talking about? You guessed it: jury duty.

Later that evening, I complained to my husband that, with the kids and running a business, I did not have time for jury duty. His smart and simple words changed my thinking on the subject forever.

He said, “If I had an injustice done to me or if one of the kids were in trouble, I would sure want someone like you on the jury. You want people on a jury who are smart, who will listen to and understand the law, and, most important, whom you can trust to make a decision based on the facts instead of emotion.”

He pointed out that this last attribute is what I bring to my business every day at the office. For instance, when I need to hire someone, I base my decision on whether a particular person is good for the position and the company. When I have to discontinue a product, I base my decision on the viability of that product – not whether or not I like it… and not even if I had spent a great deal of time and money on trying to make the product work. And when I have to make the hardest decision of all – to fire someone – I can do it because I know it is the right thing to do.

What my husband said made so much sense to me that all of a sudden my dread turned into excitement. I started looking forward to this new experience.

So on the appointed Wednesday, I eagerly reported to the Palm Beach County Courthouse with a newfound sense of pride and determination.

While going through security, I was surprised and impressed by the efficiency and politeness of the guards. I was amazed by how smoothly check-in went – much faster than any airport security, amusement park, or movie line I have ever been in.

After a brief wait (which I used to check e-mails on my BlackBerry), I was randomly selected to go through the voir dire process. (”Voir dire” is French for “to see, to say.” Roughly translated, it means “to speak the truth.”)

Twenty-one of us got called into the courtroom. There, the judge introduced the case to us, as well as the defendant and both attorneys. First, all the potential jurors answered the same 12 questions. Then the judge – followed by both attorneys – asked very specific questions to determine who would decide the fate of the defendant.

During this process, I noticed that, as in others areas of life, some people took the responsibility very seriously while others did not. (More on that in a moment.)

“If your name is called,” the judge said, “please come and sit in the jury box.”

I sat there restlessly, wanting to be called to one of the seven chairs. After all, I took the entire process seriously and wanted to do the right thing.

When there were only two chairs left, my mind kept flashing back to the last season of “American Idol.” Wouldn’t you know it? I was the last one called.

There were moments during the trial when I secretly wished I had not been selected. Not because of the time commitment but because of the severity of the case. This man’s future was literally up to us. The sense of responsibility was overwhelming.

Now don’t get me wrong. Having a sense of responsibility is nothing new for me. I feel it every day, running a company and raising children. But to have to make the decision to send a man to prison or give him back his freedom was new for me.

We are all human – and I will freely admit there have been times during long meetings or when listening to friends go on and on about their husbands or work that I have zoned out. But given what was at stake here, I vowed that I would listen intently and consider all the evidence put before me.

And I did that for five hours.

When the testimony was complete, the judge gave us explicit instructions. And when we got to the jury room, I was nominated to be the foreperson. It took us only an hour to make our decision: We found the defendant not guilty. It was clear to us that the state had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

It saddened me to think that there are many countries in the world where this man would not have received a fair trial – where he would have been thrown in prison based on the little evidence there was.

It also made me very proud. Proud that at a time when some people believe it’s fashionable to hate everything American, we have a system that presumes a defendant to be innocent until proven otherwise.

As I drove away from the courthouse that evening, I was happy that I had gone through the process. I was happy about our decision. But, mostly, I was happy to get back to the office the next morning.

As you already know from reading my articles in ETR, I try to learn something from every new experience. And jury duty was no exception. I found two valuable business lessons inside the courtroom that day.

Lesson #1: 5 things that you should be doing for your customers.

As I said, I was surprised by how smoothly the check-in process ran. But it was the orientation that really interested me as a marketer. This included a live presentation followed by a five-minute film. In both presentations, the court made the following points:

  • They thanked us profusely up front.
  • They emphasized the importance of being a juror.
  • They broke down the jury selection process into concise steps, so we knew exactly what to expect for the day.
  • They gave us many suggestions for what to do at the courthouse while we were waiting to be called.
  • They provided clean, comfortable waiting areas – including a quiet room with computers, books, news and lifestyle magazines, as well as puzzles. There was something to interest just about everyone.

I immediately thought of how this could be related to business. Take a second to think about your own business… and ask yourself:

  • Do I thank my customers when they buy my product?
  • Do I emphasize the importance of their purchase?
  • Do I give them clear instructions on using the product?
  • Do I make suggestions for what they can do or accomplish with the product?
  • Do I deliver the product in such a manner that it excites my customers to use it?

Lesson #2: Attitude is everything.

After the voir dire process was complete, we were asked to step outside the courtroom so the judge and attorneys could decide on the jury. I was happy to have this opportunity to speak with my fellow potential jurors – especially the people who clearly did not want to be there. And it appeared that those who had given answers that they knew would keep them from being picked for the jury were the same ones who did not take either their careers or relationships seriously.

“Jen” told me that she did not want to get picked for the jury because she would rather go back downstairs and watch the free movie they were showing. Then she commented that spending the day at the courthouse was better than going to work.

“Peter” told me he would rather sit around the courthouse cafeteria all day instead of spending the day with his wife.

It was amazing to me that though these people knew they would have to spend the entire day at the courthouse even if they weren’t picked for a case, they still did not want to get selected. So I pressed further to inquire about their individual careers.

Jen told me she was a marketing manager for a local research firm. (Turns out it’s a medium-sized company that I know.) She said that she liked her job okay, but her boss kept passing her up for promotions. Gee, I wonder why, Jen.

Peter was retired but he had been a print salesman back in New York (with three-hour liquid lunches). He said that in the good old days it was easy to fool his customers into paying more for his printing – even though, by his own admission, the product was not worth the price. He revealed that he would sell them “extras” he knew would make no difference to the quality of the printing job.

I finally spoke to “Karen,” a young women who was not only a hairdresser but who owned her own salon. She told me that when she received her jury duty notice, she immediately called her clients to re-schedule their appointments. She even stayed late in the evening the two weeks before jury duty to accommodate those clients. She also told me that she had asked her husband to take a personal day off from his job so he could run the salon in her absense.

What can you learn about business from my little chats with Jen, Peter, and Karen? It’s simple.

If you feel the way Jen and Peter do about their jobs, quit. You’re not doing yourself or your employer any favors by staying. And if you have employees like Jen and Peter – and, believe me, you will recognize them – fire them. It’s never fun to fire people. But your business will benefit. Instead, look for people with Karen’s work ethic and attitude.

[Ed. Note: You can find lessons that will help your business grow almost anywhere you look. Fortunately, you don’t have to look far. MaryEllen Tribby and Michael Masterson have written a book made up of their combined 60+ years as marketers and businesspeople. You can benefit from their vast experience without going through your own years of trial and error. The book is being launched this coming Tuesday – so keep reading ETR for details about where and how to get your copy.

In the meantime, let us know what you’ve gotten out of jury duty. Did you learn any unexpected lessons?]

Mary Ellen Tribby

MaryEllen Tribby is a business consultant and coach to entrepreneurs in the information publishing and digital marketing arena. She led Early to Rise from May 2006 to January 2010 as Publisher & CEO. She has also served as President of Weiss Research, managing divisions of Forbes, Globe Communications, Times Mirror Magazines and Crain’s New York Business. She currently heads up The CEO's Edge and