The High-Tech Juror

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.  The seated jury had a total of eight jurors, and six of those jurors had training and work experience in the tech industry.  These jurors came from countries throughout the world – Iran, China, India, and a few here in the U.S.  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. The Bay Area is likely to continue to be a magnet for tech talent – from Santa Cruz to Sonoma. 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 are much more represented in Bay Area jury pools.
An overview of jury selections in Bay Area counties shows just how prevalent these tech jurors are:

  • In a 2008 jury selection in San Mateo County, seven of the 15 jurors seated (12 jurors and 3 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 6-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 ten of those jurors worked in the tech industry.

How is the High-Tech Juror Different from Other Jurors? 
The mindset of the 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 revealing both problems and solutions.  Unlike their bio-tech counterparts who may spend time in isolated laboratories, high-tech jurors are accustomed to collaboration and brain-storming sessions with those who may or may not possess similar skill-sets.  The diversity of skill-sets in these brain-storming sessions is  embodied in the phrase “devops” – a term that is 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 of these 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 of the 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.  These 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 these 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, Jack Dorsey, one of the founders of both Twitter and Square.  We’ve found that many tech jurors who have this mindset can be very critical of plaintiffs who are criticizing corporate behavior.

Some of these 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 Tech Juror, and others, may view your case.

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Bonora Rountree Trial Consulting & Research