Author(s): Molly Townes O'Brien
A nationwide movement to reform jury trial practice is underway. At the core of these reforms is an effort to make the courtroom more like a classroom. The current wave of jury reform is designed to take advantage of learning theory that shows that "active learners" remember and comprehend new information better than passive learners. Reforms in jury trial practice now being proposed across the country will allow jurors to take a more active role in the trial, to become "active learners" by allowing them to take notes, ask questions, discuss the evidence with each other, keep notebooks with exhibits and jury instructions, and more. The current wave of jury reform also gives attorneys more opportunities to address the jury and more opportunities to explain the merits of their case. The goal of the reforms is to improve jury comprehension and motivate the jurors to stay awake and attentive.
In general, reforms that treat the courtroom more like a classroom favor the lawyers who are the better teachers. Most trial lawyers already consider themselves to be good teachers. The "active learning" jury should motivate trial lawyers to pick up the chalk and plan to teach even more. Although students/jurors feel more empowered in an active learning environment, it is the person who has something to teach who is most empowered. The teacher is empowered because he or she has an audience that is attentive and better equipped with the tools to learn. The teacher/lawyer will see the reforms as new opportunities to reach into the jurors' minds. The skilled teacher/lawyer will guide note taking, provide excellent written materials for the juror notebooks, and use juror questions to gain insight about how the jurors' view the evidence. In other words, reforms designed to improve juror comprehension will, in the hands of a skilled teacher, give the trial lawyer more and better opportunities to teach and persuade the jury of the justice of their cause.
This short article will give you an overview of recent jury reform initiatives and provide some preliminary thoughts about how trial lawyers can make the most of the coming jury trial practice reforms.