TV shows and movies present a glimpse into the workings of courtroom trials. Many potential jurors, however, aren't sure what awaits them when they receive a jury summons in the mail.

Bill Bailey, a professor from practice at UW Law with experience as both a plaintiff and defense attorney, offers advice on how to maximize your contributions as a juror. He covers what you should expect during opening arguments, the difference between witnesses and expert witnesses, one thing you should do during deliberations, and other topics.


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Bill Bailey: Hello everyone, I'm Bill Bailey I'm a professor from practice at the University of Washington School of Law.

Three-Minute Legal Tips: What should jurors keep in mind when watching opening arguments?

BB: Opening is the most interesting part of the trial. It's when there are a lot of spectators because it's a focus on storytelling. Trial lawyers are storytellers and each side is telling a different story on the same set of facts. So, what you want to do is pay attention to each side's story. They both can't be right and start looking for ways where one side's more credible than the other.  

TMLT: What should they focus on when a witness takes the stand?

BB: Trials are all about conflicting versions of the truth and you as a juror figuring out which side is closest to the truth. Credibility of witnesses is the key element to that. What does your gut sense tell you as a witness is testifying? Does this person seem honest and accurate? Or are they putting their thumb on the scale and trying to tip things in one direction or another? So, pay attention to witness credibility because at the end of the trial you'll have to make some command decisions on who's the most believable.

TMLT: What are the differences between a witness and an expert witness?

BB: The world around us has gotten steadily more complicated. You as jurors have to sort out information that goes beyond what any of us know in everyday life. Both sides put up expert witnesses and the judge has to make a preliminary determination: is this witness truly an expert? Will they be able to help you as jurors make a decision? Then the judge will permit the expert to testify so they have special permission to offer opinions that are meant to try and help you sort out the issues. Lay witnesses can only talk about what they saw, what they heard. They can't offer opinions.

BB: What notes should jurors take during a trial?

TMLT: You don't want to burden yourself with too many notes, just what really resonates. But, you also want to pay attention to the witness's demeanor. How are they saying things? Because besides the words, the other things we use to analyze credibility—eye movements, tone of voice, looking uncomfortable—those kind of things you want to pay attention to and not just be focused on taking notes.

TMLT: What should jurors keep in mind when watching closing arguments

BB: The judge will be giving you instructions as to the law before the arguments begin and then the lawyers for each side will be using those instructions to say why they win and the other side loses. So, you want to pay attention to the claims the lawyers are making and how does that fit with the instructions that the judge has given?  

TMLT: What tips do you have for jurors during deliberations?

BB: What one juror may miss another will catch and so that group discussion is what makes the jury system fair, powerful. Some jurors tend to be more alpha, more dominant, but if that's happening you need to speak up and make sure that your viewpoint is heard because it's very important to the jury system.