In a previous article, I discussed why Jury Yield is so Important and how increasing your jury yield can lead to efficiency and cost-savings. It is one of the two most important statistics that determine how well you are running your jury operation. The other? Jury Utilization.
Juror Utilization is the statistic showing how well your court uses its supply of qualified jurors. Unlike Jury Yield which measures response against your summons mailings, Jury Utilization reflects how well your operation is functioning once those jurors show up for service and potentially sent to a courtroom. The National Center State Courts says that your Jury Utilization should be around 75%. That means 3 out of 4 jurors who are qualified, advised to report, and sent to a courtroom for voir dire are utilized.
There are a number of reasons why your utilization should be as high as possible. First, as I have mentioned in other articles, a juror’s time is precious. You are asking someone to take time away from their busy life, job, family, and obligations to come to the courthouse and perform their civic duty for very little in return. The worst thing you can do is not value their time and end up wasting it by not using them. Jury Duty constantly fights public perception and wasting the time of people who were kind enough to show up only hurts your operation in the future. Low response, low jury yield, and a narrower/weaker jury pools are the result. It’s frustrating on all sides.
The second reason your utilization should be as high as possible is that it saves you money. In most cases, every juror who walks through your door has to be paid. If your utilization is low, you waste a lot of money on juror fees that could have easily been avoided. Calling in too many jurors is the equivalent of knowingly overpaying for something. That money could go to other things that make jurors’ time easier, like additions to your assembly room, higher jury fees, and new technology. It can even benefit your court’s overall budget. Low jury utilization is simply put; a waste.
A third reason why high juror utilization is so important is that every juror and every summons you mail is a unit of work for your jury staff. The less summonses you have to mail, the fewer juror responses, calls, and paperwork you have to deal with. A high utilization will make your workload easier to handle. You further streamline your jury operation when you send fewer jurors to a courtroom. While you will still have the same number of dismissed for cause, etc… you will have fewer jurors that were simply not used at all. In some jurisdictions, even jurors that weren’t used are paid and sent home. Truly a waste of a qualified and willing juror.
It is clear that a high utilization is important but what can you do? The best way to achieve optimal results is to look at historical statistics and work backwards. Here are 3 ideas:
- Depending on the type of trial, look at the minimal number of panel members each type of trial required previously to get voir dire completed. Do you notice you are consistently sending too many panel members to a courtroom? There is nothing wrong with having a few extra jurors available but if too many are being wasted, speak with your judges and see how you can reduce panel sizes. Don’t send 50 jurors to a courtroom where 30 will do.
- Another tip is good communication between jury staff and court operations. The sooner the jury staff can be informed of jury trials that have been called off, plead out, or cancelled, the more of an opportunity there is to notify jurors before they come in for service. Discuss with your staff how to achieve this in the most efficient way possible. Make sure court operations know your time limits for notifying jurors so they can provide you with the cleanest docket possible.
- Speaking of notifying jurors… Use all the means available to you to communicate with jurors about their service. Use progressive and reactive messaging. Send messages outbound (emails, texts, phone calls) as well as have inbound messages and services prepared so you can reach as many jurors as possible in a timely way. The more informed jurors are and the timelier they are informed, the better use of them you will get.
So, once you have raised your jury yield and are sending as few summonses as possible, further improve your jury operation’s efficiency by taking steps to increase your juror utilization. Everyone, no matter what they are asked to do, likes being utilized effectively. Time is precious and more importantly, good jurors are precious. Waste not, want not.