Most people tend to dread jury duty, but getting the opportunity to sit on a jury and hear a court case a law student can be a really enlightening experience. You get to see first-hand how a trial works and how lawyers argue their cases. For practicing lawyers, this may be less exciting since they will probably have gone through the experience themselves. So this begs the question: can law students and lawyers serve as jurors?
Both law students and lawyers can serve as jurors. Even judges and police officers can be called for jury duty. In most U.S. jurisdictions, there is no rule proscribing jury duty based on occupation.
Chances of Getting Empaneled on a Jury
For law students, your chances of being empaneled on the jury are very low, but not zero. The lawyers on the case will usually seek to dismiss law students during voir dire, which is the process during which potential jurors are questioned to determine their competency to sit on a jury.
In determining competency, trial lawyers are simply trying to figure out if you have any potential bias that may affect the outcome of the case. You will receive questions about your attitudes and beliefs regarding anything relevant to the case such as your thoughts about government regulations, jury damage awards, and corporations.
You may also receive questions about your life experiences such as any personal injuries and working conditions. The purpose of this is to see whether you would be sympathetic to one part to the case or the other. If they think you would be biased against their client, they will disqualify you.
For instance, a juror describes her experiences on the thought process of her co-jurors:
“…I was appalled at some jurors’ thought processes during deliberations. One lady insisted the guy was guilty because she “knows guys like him” and he must therefore be guilty. We found him not guilty in the end, but it took a lot of reasoning with the one hold-out to get to that result. Jury duty can be a valuable experience in that regard.”
If a lawyer had discovered that this lady would be so biased against their client beyond reason because of her life experiences, they would have dismissed her.
As a law student, lawyers may nevertheless see you as a threat to their case because you may understand certain legal topics they want to avoid. The purpose of getting a jury trial is so that the lawyer can weave together some sort of story in favor of their client in the eyes of the general public, even if the actual law is unfavorable to their client. A law student may potentially see right through these tactics.
As one law student puts it:
“It would be like performing magic tricks in front of magicians.”
Several discussions on law school forums focus on this topic:
“During one of my jury trials we had a [2L] on winter break make it to the [finalized jury]. I found out that she interned [in a] civil [court] and just left it at that. I left her in the box and the [District Attorney] didn’t [dismiss] her (we were getting tired).
The case was a bit of a slam dunk for the [District Attorney], but I’m fairly certain she was the reason I hung half the counts.”
In short, law students can make the lawyers’ jobs more difficult.
This is not to say that law students never get empaneled on a jury. A recently graduated law student on Reddit describes his experience with being empaneled on a jury:
“Got called for jury my last semester in school and I got it delayed until after the Cal[ifornia] bar. Sure enough got recalled for the first week in August. So about two weeks after the bar, I was juror 11 on a murder trial in San Francisco. Did the trial (found guy guilty of 2nd degree), moved to Santa Ana, and began my federal clerkship in September. I was questioned in voir dire but, obviously, no one dismissed me.”
Requesting a Deferral
As a law student, you can request a deferral of your jury duty if you have obligations at law school that you can’t avoid. For instance, if serving as a juror would result in too many missed classes which would fail you in those courses, the local commissioner of jurors will grant you a deferral.
A law student describes how accommodating the commissioner of jurors was with his case:
“I requested a deferral and it was granted. Twice. I explained I would fail if I missed that many classes. Don’t wait – call them now and explain. You’ll probably have to write a request as well, but let them know asap that you are in law school and your grade could be adversely affected. They were really nice about it in my case.”
There have been many cases where recent law school graduates were able to get a deferral to take the bar exam as well.
Lawyers, Judges, and Police
This goes the same for judges and lawyers. They can essentially see through any BS and come to their own conclusions despite the lawyer’s best efforts to be persuasive. But some judges slip through the cracks.
Anyone from the police department is also seen as a threat to the defense in criminal trials because they tend to favor the prosecution since they’re both technically on the same side during their usual scope of employment.