by Laurie R. Kuslansky, Ph.D.
Managing Director, Jury & Trial Consulting
While someone ends up sitting in the first seat on a jury and is presumed or named foreperson by the Court, they may very well be one in name only. In fact, someone else may function as the foreperson.
Who do you think is the most likely foreperson? Do you think someone old enough to be her parent will defer to a 20-something pixie in seat 1? Will an accountant in seat 6 rely on the homemaker foreperson for damages decisions? Is it the butcher, the baker, or the candlestick-maker? Unlikely.
Is there a pattern?
Yes. Surprise, surprise! The power pattern in the jury room mirrors real life outside court:
- Male, despite the proportion of males to females in a venue’s population.
- Higher socio-economic status 
- Better educated  (such as a graduate degree)
- Past juror
- Age 45 to 65 (possibly related to prior jury service)
- Act like leaders, such as:
- Sit at the head of the table
- First to speak
- First to mention needing to choose a foreperson 
- Participate and speak more often than other jurors 
- More regular voting records of participating in past elections.
- More experience discussing politics in conversation
A perceived “expert”
Alternatively, someone on the jury who is perceived by other jurors to have expertise seen as relevant to the case may emerge as the foreperson. The funniest part of perceived expertise is how tenuous it can be. For example, in a high-tech patent case, an entry-level, part-time mechanic may be the closest available “expert” on the panel. Someone married to a lawyer may be the “expert” on a legal malpractice case. It is often a matter of “a little knowledge is dangerous.”
But -- Haven’t Things Changed Since the Women’s Movement?
Uh… not so much on juries. As recently as 2007, 71%-78% of forepersons were male, echoed in 2010. In addition, how males and females act as foreperson also differs, in the off-chance that a female is elected (rather than typically volunteers) and actually functions as foreperson. Female forepersons tend to encourage others to share their opinions to build consensus and exert less influence on others’ opinions, whereas male jurors tend to interrupt, hold the floor, and make more declarative statements. Result? Male-led juries tend to reach verdicts quicker.
There is no guarantee of who will be the leader on your jury, but pay special attention in jury selection to leadership qualities and the traits noted here, because they will likely have significant influence if they end up on your jury. They may end up as juror #1 or enemy #1 if they become the foreperson.
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 First among Strangers: The Selection of Forepersons and Their Experience as Leaders in Civil and Criminal Juries.” Co-authored with Laura Black and John Gastil. INGRoup: Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research, Kansas City, MI, July 2008.
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