Meet the High-Tech Juror

They’re a local fixture. Almost all of our Bay Area jury selections indicate a strong presence of jurors who have training in engineering. For example, in 2010, we were working with a client on a case in the San Francisco Division of the Northern District of California. Of the eight seated jurors, six of them had training and work experience in the tech industry. Several came from other countries like Iran, China, and India. After receiving a favorable verdict for our client, we came to affectionately refer to this jury as “Engineers Without Borders.”

The Bay Area is known for its technology companies, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that computer and mathematical occupations will increase by 22% between 2010 and 2020. From Santa Cruz to Sonoma, the region is likely to continue to be a magnet for tech talent. While Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that only 4% of those who are employed in California hold jobs in Computer and Information Research, jurors who have training or job experience in these areas have a much higher representation in Bay Area jury pools.

An overview of jury selections in Bay Area counties shows just how prevalent high-tech jurors are:

  • In a 2008 jury selection in San Mateo County, seven of the 15 jurors seated (12 jurors and three alternates) worked in the computer industry.
  • In a jury selection in 2009 in federal court in San Francisco, jurors were screened for hardship for a six-week trial, and almost 10% of those jurors (17 out of 179) held positions in the computer industry.
  • In a 2009 jury selection in San Francisco Superior Court, 10 out of 73 jurors worked in the high-tech industry.
  • A 2013 jury selection in San Francisco Superior Court had a total of 101 jurors who were cleared for hardship for a six-week trial, and 15 of those jurors worked in the tech industry.
  • A 2015 Alameda County jury had a total of 64 jurors who were cleared for hardship for a six-week trial, and 10 of those jurors worked in the tech industry.

How Is the High-Tech Juror Different from Other Jurors? 
The mindset of the high-tech juror is formed by workplace experiences, educational experience, and a worldview that values problem solving. For the high-tech juror, the now ubiquitous “algorithm” serves as both a tool and a metaphor for identifying problems and solutions. Unlike their bio-tech counterparts who may spend time in isolated laboratories, high-tech jurors are accustomed to collaboration and brainstorming sessions with those who may or may not possess similar skill sets.  The diversity of skill sets in these brainstorming sessions is embodied in the phrase “devops” – a term used to describe “a cross-disciplinary community of practice dedicated to the study of building, evolving and operating rapidly changing and resilient systems.”

The highly collaborative work environment for many high-tech jurors often results in highly collaborative deliberations. For example, after a verdict was reached, one court official recently described to us a boisterous deliberation on a case where two jurors worked for tech companies. He told us that the room was covered with post-its and diagrams, and that the jurors left no stone unturned. High-tech jurors are accustomed to collaborating to answer complex questions. As a result, they are typically comfortable with the deliberations process, and their comfort with the process may make them influential with other jurors.
Engineer Different 2There are also indications that high-tech jurors have different views of employment cases than the general population. For example, in jury selections in employment cases, jurors with training in engineering appear to be less inclined to favor plaintiffs and more inclined to think that the plaintiff should get another job rather than spending energy on taking a lawsuit to trial.

Many of these jurors conceive of themselves as potential titans in the economy. Media coverage, especially in the Bay Area, focuses on successful unicorns like Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, and Jack Dorsey, one of the founders of Twitter and Square. We’ve found that many high-tech jurors who have this mindset can be disapproving of plaintiffs who are criticizing corporate behavior.

Some high-tech jurors appear to have a different attitude toward the legal system. For example, in a recent jury selection, one juror, an electrical engineer with an Ivy League degree, said that he would not be willing to abide by the judge’s admonition that jurors should not conduct outside research because he believed in “perfect information,” and the rules of evidence deprive jurors of the ability to decide what’s relevant. He went on to say that society should enlist engineers to resolve disputes, not lawyers and judges. While this juror is likely an outlier in terms of attitudes, he offered a critique of the legal system that other high-tech jurors might hold.

How will the high-tech juror react to your case? And how can you tailor your arguments and evidence to appeal to these jurors? We’re happy to share our thoughts with you about how the high-tech juror (and other juror types) may view your case.

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Bonora Rountree Trial Consulting & Research