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Thoughts on Judges, Lawyers, and Social Media During My Jury Service

Jury service rarely occurs at a convenient time, but after serving you experience a groundswell of civic pride and respect for the judicial process. That process includes instructions from the judge to not discuss or research the case or the participants – with friends, family…and on social media.
No amount of learning and training prepares you for the nuance of each charge that you, the juror must consider: ambiguous language, a particular adverb, and if you’re in civil or criminal court, the meaning and understanding of phrases like “preponderance of the evidence” vs. “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
On the other hand, the vast wealth of information produced almost daily on ethical considerations of social media for judges, lawyers, juries, and clients, helps lawyers and jurors alike to understand the importance of the judge’s instructions about communicating online and off. In other words, an informed juror (and lawyer) knows the consequences, is scared straight, and is arguably, more likely to follow the judge’s instructions.
See: 9 Social Media Considerations for Lawyers

What I didn’t do

Armed with the judge’s instructions AND knowledge of the potential consequences of social media infractions, I didn’t check-in to the courthouse or lunch spots on Foursquare or Twitter or Facebook or Google Plus, after being chosen to serve on a jury.
I didn’t research the impressive, Doogie Howser-esque, defense attorney or his equally impressive, rather intense partner. Or, the competent prosecutor. I didn’t try to find out more about the defendant or the leanings of the judge. I didn’t search for their blogs or websites, Twitter feeds or LinkedIn profiles. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t tempted, but the knowledge gained from social media articles, posts, webinars, and presentations over the years helped ensure I followed the judge’s instructions to the letter. It’s a good thing I did – we did – since the information that we came across later would have undoubtably tainted and bogged down deliberations.

Don’t discount the curmudgeons

Long-time defense attorneys, litigators and lawyers in the trenches preach about attorneys ethical and responsible use of social media, blogging, and engagement in new media. You may not like their tone, or appreciate the pile-on that sometimes occur – but it’s important to heed their words. Being in court reminds you that these folks are living it, not simply theorizing about it.
I generally write about practical, actionable stuff, and as I sat down to unload my thoughts after coming home from court, I wondered about the purpose of this atypical post. In short, it’s about expressing a deep appreciation for the judicial process and ongoing discussion about the legal profession’s use of social media, filled with unprecedented possibilities and fraught with ethical minefields. And, about how important it is to know the rules and regulations; to stay informed, and heed the advice of those who practice and encounter these concerns every day. It sure helped me – a juror. Practicing lawyers? Get informed.
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