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I, the Jury

I arrived just in time to see the movie. It was 15 minutes of people in suits praising the American jurisprudence system and thanking us for taking part in jury service, a hallmark of our great democratic system.

Yes, that’s right. It was my turn for jury duty once again – sorry, I’m told it’s called “jury service” now – and as I sat in the room where more than a hundred people waited to be selected, I thought of how juries and boards are similar. Think about it: they both include a cross-section of folks who gather together, usually in a small room, to deliberate on what should be done about a bad situation: a robbery or a leaking roof, for instance. Those people can have intense discussions about what’s right and what’s wrong, and those talks are top-secret, confidential, hush-hush, no one’s business.

Granted, the time frame is shorter – you only spend a few days (or, in extreme situations, a few months) on a jury while board membership can seem to go on forever – but if boards adopted the jury model outright, just think of the possibilities.

 

1
Recruiting new members would be easier. First of all, you can build board duty into something that’s ultra-important. With that in mind, you should call it “board service” rather than “board duty.” That has a nice ring to it, like you’re doing something special for your building. Take a lesson from the government: when you’re down at the jury selection process, everyone running the operation is extravagant in thanking you for your service. “What you are doing is very important,” says a man in the 15-minute movie. “Thank you for your invaluable help,” says the judge. “You really are crucial to this process,” says the assistant district attorney.

I mean, how can your head not be turned? Even when you get on a case involving someone in a parked car, who was passed out drunk, who was clearly not going anywhere, but who was bizarrely arrested by an overzealous cop for drunk driving. Even when you see that the two-year-long case is a colossal waste of time and resources because when the police called the man’s wife to collect the car she could have saved taxpayer dollars by collecting her husband as well. Who thinks about that? As I said, you are made to feel very important – despite the fact that you actually spend most of your time in a big room with people working on laptops, playing video games on their phones, staring listlessly into space, or simply sleeping.

 

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You’d have a bigger pool from which you can draw. Another technique you can adopt: make service mandatory for everyone. Every shareholder/unit-owner has to serve from six months to a year. No exceptions. Now this may run counter to established procedures (not to mention your proprietary lease or bylaws), but don’t worry! I’m sure that after you explain the benefits of universal service, everyone will unanimously vote for change. Isn’t that the American way?

 

3
You can insulate yourself from criticism. Boards are often targets of criticism. You can avoid that by following the jury model once again: remember to make the notification process as impersonal as you can, as though faceless bureaucrats were behind the selection. That insulates the board recruiters from blame and makes the role of board member all the more mysterious (in mystery, there is power, as many bestselling detective novelists have discovered).

Send out “board service notifications” selecting a few people and requiring them to serve, but giving them the option to “postpone service” a couple of times before forcing them onto the board. Include a phone number to call about their service that rarely gets answered and rings on and on, without an answering machine.

With those three simple steps, boards never have to worry about recruitment again. And if that works, I’ve got a nifty plan to adopt the Supreme Court template to boards. Imagine: appointments of people to the board, generally with no practical experience in the issues they face, and they serve for life.

Wait a minute. Oh, I guess boards have that already.

 

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