I am going to be spending the next three months as a grand juror in Massachusetts.
I just started, but I have already noted two fascinating things.
The first is how seriously everyone is taking it. Yes, all 75 of us who were called to be considered for the grand jury–they took 23–were wishing NOT to be selected. It isn’t hard to understand why. The grand jury will be meeting every Friday for the next three months. Just about all of us put off the summons for a year–as we are allowed to by law–and when we showed up the other day to be questioned by the judge we were hoping he would have picked 23 people before he got to our name.
But the moment we were selected, everyone took the process of deciding whether to indict someone to stand trial as if their life might depend on it–because in some cases it will. (Life in prison is a possible sentence.) The fact that everyone is paying rapt attention to the proceedings really does make you proud to be an American.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the grand jury process is remarkably inefficient–even by government standards. And therein lies multiple opportunities.
Take the matter of the juror questionnaire that the judge used as a basis to ask us questions to see if we were qualified to serve. It requires you to answer such things as: age, education (being a law school graduate did not get me excused); if you have ever been arrested; been a victim of a crime; etc.
Not only did we have to fill this out by hand, but when we showed up at the courthouse at 8:30 on the appointed day they made multiple copies so that the judge, clerk and an assistant district attorney could read along while we were questioned. So, you had 75 citizens waiting for close to 90 minutes for paperwork to be copied and collated. That’s 94 man-hours wasted. Obviously, this could be automated.
And speaking of a waste of time, why do you have to go to the courthouse in the first place?
The judge talked to 54 people to find the 23 who were acceptable. He kept things moving and so it only took about three and half minutes a person for questioning. Even so the rest of us were kept waiting for those three-plus hours. Clearly the questioning could have been done via something like Skype.
Every Friday for the foreseeable future I will drive the 19 miles to the courthouse. It takes about 40 minutes on back roads. I drive another 19 home at the end of the day. More time wasted. The whole could be done by video conference call. We have probably have been asked to indict on 25 separate cases so far, and there hasn’t been one case that could not have handled via some sort of video conference.
I don’t mind serving on the grand jury. As I said, I would have been happier not to be selected, but now that I am I will do my best and I actually like being part of the process.
I do hope, however, that someone reading this will figure out ways to eliminate most of the waste involved.
Paul B. Brown is co-author of Just Start published by Harvard BusinessReview Press and blogs regularly at Forbes.com.