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Tips on Getting Out of Jury Duty

Vivia Chen

August 17, 2016

24882 - PinocchioYou are busy, busy. You're negotiating two super-important matters and your clients are constantly clamoring for your attention.

Then bam: You get hit with a summons to show up at 9:00 a.m. sharp for jury duty. Deferred it for another day? Not an option; you've already used up your chits. In fact, the summons reminds you that you could be haul off to jail if you fail to show up this time.

Pity the poor, over-worked lawyer who must drag her tail to the courthouse for the black hole known as jury duty.

Is there no way out? There is. And it's simple: Lie.

This summer, during jury selection for a rape trial where I was eventually picked as a juror (yes, it was weird that anyone would want a lawyer/journalist on a jury), I saw first hand how some people, including lawyers, got off. What I witness was creative, ridiculous and, sometimes, appalling.

Most of the ones that got off claimed that they couldn't be objective. Some of the young women said that their instinct is to always side with the alleged victim—in this case, a 12-year old girl. Knowing how much sexual assault is a hot topic on campuses these days, I find it plausible that some millennials have a knee jerk reaction. The lawyers (at least the defense) must have felt the same way because no young women ended up on the jury.

But some potential jurors were clearly overstating the reason they couldn't serve. One Asian American said that he would have difficulty discussing evidence involving graphic sexual details with his fellow jurors. "In my culture, we're not comfortable talking about those things," he explained. (As an Asian American, I find this totally bogus.)

Then, there was a long string of people who claim to have friends or relatives who were sexual abuse victims, or know therapists or social workers who've treated them. Based on those relationships, many said they couldn't possibly be keep an open mind.

But the most strategic liar? That award goes to a lawyer, of course. During voir dire one morning, a young associate at a firm was asked if he had any reason he couldn't serve. He answered absolutely not. But after our lunch break, he suddenly had a revelation. "I thought long and hard about this case," he announced to the court, "and I remember I do have a close friend who was sexually assaulted, and it'll be hard for me to be objective." He was quickly dismissed.

That was slimy, but it gets better. At the end of the day, this lawyer gloated to those of us who got picked. He said he deliberately waited until the afternoon to make his revelation because it would be too late in the day to put his name back in the jury pool for another trial. "I figure if I waited long enough, the odds would increase that I'd get off completely." And he was right. He showed off the coveted piece of paper from the court that exempts him from jury duty for the next six years, and he went his merry way.

What a piece of work. Lying to get off a civic duty is reprehensible for anyone. But for a lawyer, it feels particularly sleazy and shameful.

Lucky for him I didn't catch his name.





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Great post, Vivia. Jury duty is everyone's civic duty, and lawyers should know that better than anyone else.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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