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Communication and Trial Practice Tips for the Woman Lawyer

What Back to School Means for Trials

 by Cynthia R. Cohen, Ph.D., Verdict Success LLC 

Over the summer, vacations slow down the courts as many judges, lawyers, as well as the general public, take family vacations. Many parents look forward to children going back to school. What does going back to school mean for the jury pool? If you were in trial over the summer, chances are you saw more teachers and students show up for jury duty. During the fall, if students and teachers show up for jury duty at all, they generally are excused.

What does juror occupation have to do with perception of the trial? Plenty. While we avoid stereotypes of teachers because there are many different types of teachers (e.g., yoga, elementary school, trade school, university) and many different personalities, occupation contributes to life experiences. Other contributors to life experiences are family and friends. One’s experience expands with circle of friends and family in diverse occupations. Similarly, it contracts when friends and family work within the same occupation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a substantial share of U.S. employment is concentrated in a relatively small number of occupations. Fifteen occupations generally make up 27 percent of total employment, and the 20 largest occupations make up nearly one-third of employment.  [1]Most of these large occupations (e.g., retail salesperson, cashier, office clerks, food service workers, registered nurses, waiters, customer service representatives, janitors, administrative assistants) earn below-average wages. Growth in the healthcare industry helped shape employment gains in individual occupations, while construction and production occupations were concentrated in shrinking industries. When conducting jury research in a specific state, these categories are refined. If you have a venue that is heavily weighted in a particular industry such as the Silicon Valley, it is helpful to know how individuals in that profession will react to your case issues.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects industries and occupations related to health care, personal care and social assistance, and construction are projected to have the fastest job growth between 2010 and 2020. Jobs requiring a master’s degree are expected to grow the fastest, while those requiring a high school diploma will experience the slowest growth. Changes in the demand for goods and services influence which industries expand or contract. Obviously we see growth in technology and growth in healthcare as Baby Boomers age. There are also changes in the labor force with growth in Asian, African American, and Hispanic employment. Caucasians are the decreasing share of the labor force. The number of women in the labor force will grow slightly faster than the number of men. Because of the number of Boomers NOT retiring, the labor force is getting older. The share of the youth labor force is expected to decrease.

Occupation status (e.g., employed, unemployed as in retired, disabled, or student status) is a strong determiner for jurors’ experiences and perceptions of your case. Is the juror retired? If so, what type of occupation did he or she have? Occupation and specialized training furthers jurors’ experiences and shapes views of the world. Is the juror satisfied with his or her career or job tasks? Everyone feels a fresh start in the fall. That affects how jurors listen to your client’s case. As a final takeaway, remember to look within the occupation for types of skills – many occupations such as a bank manager or barista may include teaching skills. Voir dire jurors to discover teaching skills as to whom may lead or facilitate deliberations. Then grab a cup of coffee while the jury is out.

[1]Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2011 survey.

WLALA Member Cynthia Cohen specializes in jury research, trial strategies, and settlement decision-making at Verdict Success. Dr. Cohen can be reached at 310-545-7914 or