“Jury Improvement Lunches” were an idea launched by the Civil Jury Project in 2016. The idea is simple: State and Federal judges extend lunch invitations to their recent jurors so that these citizens can discuss their experiences with judges and lawyers. The purpose of the lunch is to honor these jurors, as well as to learn from them how the justice system and jury duty can be improved. The Civil Jury Project has concluded that any effort to save jury trials requires that we treat jury service as a privilege rather than a duty, and that we learn from those who have served how lawyers and judges can improve the quality of civil dispute resolution by juries.
The Civil Jury Project is the only academic center in the country exclusively dedicated to studying civil jury trials. Our goal is to find out why they are vanishing, whether this is a bad thing and, if so, what can be done to avoid their extinction. This lunch will document the historic decline in the number of civil jury trials, both at the state and federal level. It then reviews some of the causes, including the rise in managerial judging, the tort reform efforts, and slacked dispositive motion standards. Judges and people who have recently served as jurors will then be invited on stage to remark on these figures, as well as review a number of proposed innovations designed to make jury trials faster, cheaper, and more accurate.
Steve Susman is one of the country’s most successful trial lawyers. Forty years ago, he founded Susman Godfrey, the country’s first commercial litigation boutique, specializing in representing plaintiffs on a contingent fee basis in complex business disputes including antitrust and securities fraud class actions. The firm now has five offices around the country and more than 100 trial lawyers. Because he was a pioneer in creating fee arrangements that compensate trial counsel for results rather than effort, Susman has devoted his career to eliminating unnecessary expense in trying cases. In the mid-90s, as chair of the Texas Supreme Court Discovery Advisory Committee, Susman succeeded in having Texas adopt rules that limited discovery. In 1998, he was a member of the ABA’s Task Force that wrote the original Civil Trial Practice Standards. Taking that one step further, Susman has urged lawyers and courts to encourage the parties to agree upon their own rules to streamline trials and reduce expenses. He has developed and maintained TrialbyAgreement, a website that allows counsel and judges to communicate about innovative discovery and trial protocols. He was a member of the Federal Circuit’s Committee on limiting e-discovery and he co-chaired the SDNY’s task force to implement a pilot project for expediting civil jury trials. Most recently, he has been on a crusade to save jury trials in civil cases. For the last two years, he has co-chaired the American Board of Trial Advocates “SaveOurJuries” Committee. He has taught as an Adjunct Law Professor at the University of Texas and the University of Houston, and he is now an Adjunct Professor at NYU. He teaches a course entitled “How to Try a Jury Case Intelligently,” where his students put into practice procedures to make jury trials less expensive and more comprehensible.