Why We Dread Jury Duty

This week I answered my summons for Jury Duty. This is the second time I have been called for Jury Duty and my first time in Philadelphia. This is not a civil service that comes lightly, and there is a great deal of responsibility to it. Yet that is not why everyone I know dreads getting that piece of mail. It means a day of waiting, removed from technology, not working, not communicating, and possibly being called to sit for more days in an actual jury. But is it truly Jury Duty that we dread or the entire experience around it?



My Experience

My experience can be summed up as follows – I sat a lot, read a little, waited a lot, and had my iPhone and a book to keep me company. But my experience of going to the courthouse went far beyond the one Tuesday in March.

Receiving the Summons

Experience

I received my summons in February. I wish I snapped a picture of it. The summons comes in a poorly labeled one page form sealed onto itself. It looks daunting and dated. I tore mine following the unclear instructions on which side to rip and had to tape it together to send it in. The review questions alternate Yes and No in the left column so it is easier for a machine to scan, not logical for citizens to fill out. I felt as if I was taking a standardized test all over again, and failing meant I would be held in contempt of court.
Jotting down the date on my calendar, I took heed to the number to call the night before to check on my duty and went on with work.

Solution

Can we get some simple form redesign here? Also, the online process was broken – not only the day I tried it but every day thereafter that, out of curiosity, I clicked on the link.

What to Bring?

Experience

All during the month leading up to Jury Duty I wondered “What can I bring to entertain myself?” Are phones allowed, computers, just reading material? Nothing I could find online gave any help. No recording devices including cameras – does that include my iPhone? What about a computer, what defines recording? A quick survey of Twitter informed me phones are now allowed and I settled on that as my safe zone. Books and iPhone. But the leg work needed to resolve that was entirely manual and without traceability.

Solution

The system needs to be improved to provide information relevant to the way citizens work and transact today. No longer do we stand at pay-phones waiting to check in with the office or loved ones. We are a mobile world and the lack of communication around this was worrisome.

Pre-Gameday Phone Call

Experience

My summons provided a phone number to dial into to check on the status of my summons. As described the number of jurors needed on a daily basis changes each day and they request we check to see if we are actually needed on the defined date. Finally!, I shout to myself, something that offers open communication to me on the process of Jury Duty. The form says call between 5:00 PM and Midnight the day before, so I wait.

And at 5:30 PM the night before, I call; busy signal. I have not heard a busy signal since I was growing up calling my grandparents. It’s ok, it’s the busy time of day with everyone checking in and I’ll try again. One call, two call, three call… …ten calls later the phone starts to ring… and ring… and ring. Until I get an automated message stating the mobile number is not available at this time.

The mobile number?

I’m calling the government, I would hope they are a brick and mortar. I call again, and this time get through and provide my juror number. After a series of prompts I get no more information than my postcard had and hang up with no more information except the confirmation I will be in a waiting room most of the following day.

Solution

Build a system that can handle your needs. Clearly I called during the highest volume of the day – build for that. Encourage other ways to check in the night before (eg online, text message). I gave you my juror number and you know what date I am expected, don’t use automated prompts speaking about general dates. Talk to me about the day relevant to me. Provide me additional information about the experience. I’m not asking for a person to speak with, but prompts around what to bring, expected times, are all helpful and informative.

Arriving

Experience
This experience wasn’t horrible. I arrived, went through the metal detectors, and with the exception of keeping my shoes on felt like I was at the airport. Directed down the hall, my summons was scanned for more airport parallels and I was directed to a one page form, with four sheets of carbon paper, to fill out. This is all straightforward, until we look at the form. The questions are again reminiscent of an IQ test. Furthermore it is shared that if we aren’t selected for the first jury we will need to fill out the questionnaire a second time for another possible selection.

Solution
Not only do I need to fill out a draconian form once, but twice? Again, let’s introduce some technology into the picture. Some airport check in kiosks would be great – allow me to scan my summons and answer any necessary questions then and there – once. Remove the dull and dated video played through a whining VHS player and provide contextual support within the form. Have a few kiosks and traffic keeps moving.

What, this will cost too much? Not in the long run. And it was expressed on a few occasions during the day my court personnel that the procedures around paperwork have been reevaluated and adjusted not as long as two years ago to reduce paper waste and to reduce costs.

Waiting

Experience
So now I have completed the necessary forms and I sit and wait. I don’t know what I am waiting for, or where my next direction will come from. As it turns out, I am in the first pool of jurors to be called to a panel. I gather my belongings and move to another room. Now I learn this is for two reasons.

1. I am in the first jury panel to possibly be selected. (Pretty straight forward but needed to be said)

2. And perhaps more interesting, the room I started in can only hold 300 people. When built roughly ten years ago, the system required 300 jurors a day. Not taking into consideration population growth, the system now sees close to 400 potential jurors a day. Moving my group to a second room ensures everyone gets a seat. In my room, I received the same instructions as those in the larger room, and the only difference I could discern was the gentlemen speaking to us had a sense of humor and the bench I was sitting on was more uncomfortable than the chair I had previously vacated.
After my initial panel, I returned to the main room, with a much larger seat choice, where I continued to wait until the end of the day.

Solution
When I first heard the room was designed for only 300 people I was shocked. The fact that the room was designed for that moment in time and not the opportunity for expansion was surprising. But we can’t very well tear down a wall. And while the solution to start moving jurors through the process earlier in the day is valid (and in the end appreciated by those sent home) what else could be done? What about utilizing the large televisions to announce instructions and juror names, similar to a standby list at the airport? Or perhaps restaurant buzzers to inform me when it’s my turn, so that I might not be confined to the small, overcrowded room? There are cost implications here, but the overall experience provided by this blind guiding from one room to another helps support the belief that this is a framework in need of a fix.

Processing

Experience
Paperwork, done. Selection process, complete. And waiting, now nearly done. The end of the day comes and I am told I can go home. I just need to wait for them to call my name from a long list of jurors to receive my proof of attendance. So the end of the day, when I am looking to get to the stack of emails that has piled against me, I still get to wait. Two people alternate announcing names in manageable stacks, and along with Murphy’s law, I was one of the last twenty people to be called to leave.

Solution
Stagger releasing jurors, if even only the illusion of staggering. Don’t announce we are all free to leave and then make us wait. Simply call us as you can handle the traffic flow. Lines the circumference of the room help no one, and only add to the sluggish experiences of the day.

Could the kiosks and other systems introduced earlier in this article support anything here? Experiences are comprised of many small events, and the most critical are the beginning and end. How am I supposed to feel encouraged when the end of the day stretches on?

In Close

Ask your friends and family. Jury Duty is not something people get excited about. But is it the act of Jury Duty or the series of experiences tied to it? The poor communication, hours of waiting, and antiquated processes? How can we encourage and excite people about the civil service?
I’ll be honest, I am one of the people that could be excited. But right now I am not. So besides the masochistic interest in how this article might come up in 12 months when I am summoned again, am I off the deep end? How was your Jury Duty experience and what would you like to see changed within that experience?

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