A few weeks ago I served on a jury. The case only last about three hours, and the deliberation process lasted only minutes. My five fellow jurors and I agree in about four minutes that the defendant was guilty.
The case was amazingly forgettable as court cases go, but the experience has stuck with me . . . not because of any graphic details of a crime or any dramatic legal moments. It was a case about a simple traffic violation.
What keeps drawing me back to this case are the two young lawyers. Both the defense attorney and the prosecutor looked to be in their mid-to-late twenties, fresh out of law school. But I could tell that they both had worked other cases. They knew their way around a courtroom. And they were both prepared. They had notes and law books. They had talked with the witnesses. They brought photos and drawings of the crime scene. And they were knowledgeable. They made objections, asked the judge for rulings on legal points.
But both these young attorneys desperately needed a courtroom coach—someone to help them polish their performance. The defense attorney repeatedly brought rabbits to chase into his cross-examination, but then he never chased those rabbits down. He failed to follow-up on his own questions, and after a while I stopped paying as close attention to his questions because I sensed that he was talking in order to be heard—not because he had something to say.
At the end of the case, this young defense attorney offered his closing statement to those of us in the jury box. In a passionate plea for truth and justice, he charged us with the task of protecting the entire American constitutional system and ensuring our own freedom as Americans. And okay, I couldn’t help myself. I smiled. I was pretty sure that the United States government was not hanging in the balance, waiting on the verdict we six jurors would render about this defendant who had broken a fairly minor traffic law.
The young prosecutor, who was very organized and efficient in many ways, also needed a coach. She asked many good questions. She followed up with more questions, but she failed to ask THE question that would have put her case away. She never got to the central point of her case. I found myself scooting up in my chair, willing her to ask that ONE question that desperately needed to be asked. But she never did.
In her closing, she presented well, but she stood to the side of the podium, frequently gesturing back toward the defendant. And with each awkward hand gesture, she became more and more unsteady on her high heels, wobbling back and forth, trying hard to stay upright. And then I started worrying. Was she going to gesture again? What if her gesturing caused her to fall off her high heels? Was she going to land in the jury box with us? I stopped listening to her words because I was so worried about her wild hand gestures and those very high heels.
In the days since my jury service, I have wondered about those two young lawyers. Who will sit with them and encourage them? Who will offer them some pointers about how to be more comfortable and confident public speakers? Who will talk with them about finding the main point and sticking to it? Who will help them understand that being overly dramatic lessens the effect of their words?
I was reminded that young preachers are in some ways more fortunate than young lawyers. Young preachers have professors, mentors, and congregations who walk with them as they learn the art and craft of preaching. And for those of us who sit in the pew and have the chance to listen to a young preacher, we have an opportunity, and even a responsibility, to provide affirmation, encouragement, thoughtful responses, and helpful suggestions.
But those young lawyers do have one thing that some young preachers lack—opportunity! Those young lawyers will be in the courtroom hundreds of times over the next few years. They will improve because they will have lots of practice. And so it should be with our young preachers too—get them in the pulpit. Give them time and space to preach!
And so, one final confession—I really like jury service.
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.