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Trial Tools

High Tech Jury Selection: How to Use a Spreadsheet to Create a Jury Selection Form

Spreadsheets simplify notetaking and help you concentrate on evaluting potential jurors.

By Bruce A. Olson

High Tech Jury Selection: How to Use a Spreadsheet to Create a Jury Selection FormONE OF the more difficult tasks for any trial lawyer comes right at the beginning of trial: picking a jury.

During jury selection, you must do many things simultaneously, including the following:

1. Assess the voir dire panel through visual observation to determine if anyone has any noteworthy physical characteristics or disabilities.

2. Listen to potential jurors' answers to questions on factual issues that are germane to the case.

3. Be aware of the body language of the candidates, and everyone else on the panel, because important information can be conveyed non-verbally.

4. When asking questions, your goal is to uncover any juror prejudice, but you also want to introduce key issues in the case in a favorable way to condition the jury panel.

5. Obviously, you want to establish a rapport with the jurors if possible. To do so, you must know the name and basic information about each of the jurors before you ask any questions, in order to establish an immediate, polite familiarity.

6. You also want to determine whether any jurors are particularly affected by your own personality or style -- both negatively and positively.

Finally, if all of this were not enough, you must somehow record the information you learn through the voir dire process so it can be reviewed and considered when it comes time to strike the jurors.

Processing Information

Unless you are blessed with a phenomenal memory, it is very difficult to process all of the necessary information effectively while you are in the process of questioning and listening to the jurors.

Using a spreadsheet based jury selection table can make this process much easier. It avoids cumbersome seating charts, post-it notes covering the information of an excused juror, scratch-outs and illegible handwritten notes. It also allows the attorney to keep a complete written record of the process which may be important for appellate purposes.

In our office we use Quattro Pro, so the balance of the article will assume that Quattro Pro is the spreadsheet program involved. However, the same process can be accomplished in any of the other commonly available spreadsheet programs on the market.

Using the spreadsheet we first create a juror profile for each member of the panel. It should contain as much information as possible, given what you are able to assemble before trial.

Typically, the voir dire panel list is available before trial, and some courts have more detailed juror questionnaires available for review. We are even beginning to see some courts making juror information available via the Internet.

In some cases private investigators may even be used to provide even more information. If you are not in your home jurisdiction it is also common to associate local counsel for their input. All of this information must be instantly available when formulating your questions and when making your strikes.

We place the name of each panel member in a separate cell of the spreadsheet, and then use the "comment bubble" to log all of the detailed information. The names are arranged alphabetically (or by number if that is how the names are called by the clerk) for easy identification.

In Quattro Pro you can see basic information in a pop up window as the mouse is dragged over a given cell. If you want more detailed information, or want to view the information in a larger font, you can open the comment bubble.

The comment bubble can also be edited on the fly during the questioning process to add additional information and comments about each juror. By the end of questioning, each member of the panel that has been called for potential service should have a fully developed profile that can be readily accessed when it comes to deciding who to strike.

Jury Box Chart

In addition to the chart of panel members, we set up a jury box chart that mimics the layout of the actual jury box and additional seating that is used during voir dire. When a given candidate is assigned a seat we do a quick copy and paste of the name from the chart of panel members to the jury box chart. We do a copy rather than a cut so the full list of panel members remains intact for record purposes.

All of the attached information in the comment bubble goes along with the name, and copying and pasting just the name to the chart can be quickly and easily done. Thereafter, you can be certain to use the right name when questioning someone simply by relating the chart to the actual jury box layout.

We also have a separate chart with the name of each attorney in the case which contains the same number of cells as the attorney has strikes. That way, when it comes time to strike the jurors, you can cut and paste the stricken juror's name to this chart.

This helps you keep track of which jurors have been struck, who struck them, and how many have been stricken at any given point in the process.

It also conveniently eliminates the stricken jurors from the jury box chart so it is easier to exercise your strikes intelligently as the process moves along. Another separate chart is made to log jurors excused for cause by the judge. They, too, are moved by a simple cut and paste of the name from the jury box chart to the excused for cause chart.

When the process is complete you simply save the document and you are left with a complete record of everyone who was on the panel, all the information that was obtained through investigation and questioning about each potential juror, all the jurors removed for cause, each specific juror removed by a given attorney, and the complete details of everyone who is actually on the jury that will serve at trial.

Later on, this document can be reviewed when planning closing argument to determine whether or how certain arguments should be made based on the information you previously gleaned on the jurors.

It also preserves a complete appellate record if jury selection becomes an issue on appeal.

Bruce A. Olson is principal of the Olson Law Group L.L.C., and president of ONLAW Trial Technologies L.L.C., based in Appleton, Wisc.

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