Millennials – the generation born between roughly 1980 and 2000 – are showing up in large numbers to perform their civic duty. In fact, this year alone we’ve had several trials in which the post-hardship jury pool was nearly 50% or more Millennial after hardships. More importantly, in two very recent trials, a Millennial served as the foreperson.
Millennials are clearly ready for jury duty and willing to serve. But are you ready for them? Could a Millennial really become a jury foreperson in your trial? Does it matter?
In a prior Insights blog, consultants Jessica Baer and John Wilinski outlined what to expect with Millennial jurors and offered some advice on communicating with them. Here, we continue that conversation, and then examine the effect Millennials had on some recent jury trials.
Millennials Have Strong Opinions and Can Be Vocal
In a recent post-trial interview, a juror was asked how they chose their (Millennial) foreperson. Her response? “We just chose the person who was most opinionated.”
Now, generalizations about any group are apt to be wrong for some portion of that group, but it can be useful nonetheless to examine juror tendencies in broad generational terms.
Millennials definitely display their own distinct personality and trends. For example, they will complete, or have already completed, several internships, and they tend to work vigorously toward educational and career goals. They have an ardent focus on their future trajectory and a forward-thinking mentality.
Frequently, Millennials are informed and to have strong opinions. Having had smartphones and Google at their fingertips from a relatively early age, many actively keep up with social, economic and political issues, including how these issues will affect them in the years to come. And they know how to leverage all this information for a purpose; indeed, their passion and social media resourcefulness can turn a small movement into a considerable force. We witnessed this prominently in the recent Presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders. According to a May 2016 Gallup poll of Millennial voters, 55% favored Sanders. Sanders’ progressive ideas appealed to the younger generation, and they weren’t afraid to get involved.
In the same way, many Millennials won’t hesitate to speak up for their opinions in the jury room – and this has certain consequences. Being informed, Millennials feel that they can weigh in on many topics, and they are certainly capable of offering great focus, insight and attention to detail. However, because they lack the same life experiences as, say, a Baby Boomer juror, it is true that a Millennial may struggle to enter an appropriate historical or “state-of-the-art” mindset. Their beliefs and attitudes are simply shaped from more modern realities. In other words, Millennials in deliberations must somewhat rely on older generations to explain what it was really like – and what was considered “normal” or “reasonable” – before they were around.
For instance, Millennials put strong emphasis on government and corporate ethics, responsibility, accountability, regulations and safety. Having little to no experience dealing with “old” technology (some have never even touched a rotary phone) or safety norms, they risk judging a party by an anachronistic, present-day standard. An attorney, for their part, may want to go the extra mile when presenting to Millennial jurors to help get them into the right mindset.
Naturally, the tendencies of Millennials become even more important if a Millennial is in a position to guide deliberations as the foreperson.
Why are Millennials Ready to be Foreperson?
As part of their development, Millennials have been taught to work in group settings. Team building is a hallmark of this generation. It makes sense then for Millennials to be able to manage the task of organizing discussion, but also the arduous task of managing the different generations in the jury room – from the Boomers to the Gen-X’ers. They have been working in team-building environments their entire lives that it is only natural a Millennial is comfortable in the foreperson role.
But Would a Jury Really Elect a Millennial Foreperson?
Absolutely. As mentioned above, in two recent trials a Millennial was chosen to be the foreperson. Here’s how each example played out:
In the first trial, an under-30 juror was elected foreperson. She was an engineer with a Master’s degree and, although she wasn’t very vocal in voir dire, she was highly attentive to what was happening during jury selection, openings, and witness testimony. When the jury entered deliberations, the group had a brief discussion about who their foreperson should be. Ultimately, several older jurors with prior jury experience thought electing the Millennial would be a great chance for her to learn the ropes. A very short time later, she had led them through the evidence and verdict form, and to a unanimous defense verdict.
In the second trial, the Millennial who became foreperson lived with her parents in an extremely high-rent jurisdiction and had recently attained her Master’s degree in language pathology. She had studied internationally and had just begun consulting for the school system. She hadn’t revealed any strong opinions in voir dire, or particular knowledge of the case, but was quite perspicacious and was very much willing to voice her opinion. She, along with a seasoned Baby Boomer businessman, was one of the more vocal jurors on the panel. As foreperson, she laser-focused on safety, on ethics, and on remaining case ambiguities, and encouraged other jurors to favor such issues over causation. Although the jury eventually sided with the defense on causation, her influence nevertheless generated robust debate amongst the group regarding the verdict leaning.
You may be inherently accustomed to trying your case with jurors of other generations, but Millennials are rapidly becoming a substantial portion of the jury pool. As a result, it’s crucial to know what to expect and how best to communicate with them. There is no cookie-cutter solution, of course, and every juror – Millennial or not – needs to be thoroughly vetted in voir dire; but, don’t underestimate this younger segment. They may end up playing a bigger role in your case than you might expect.