A few years ago I got my first-ever jury duty notice, prompting me to phone a number on a certain day to learn if I would be called in. Fortunately, I was not called. What would a freelancer do if their days were compromised in a court room? It made me happy I missed the Carrie Bradshaw jury duty selection process (which happens to be the only clip NOT on YouTube or I would have inserted the slice of “Sex and the City” here) sitting around for days in a government building waiting to be called. Today’s post from writer Stephanie Faris addresses what a freelancer might face if they are selected for this civic requirement. Stephanie pitched me an idea in April of last year, which I declined and invited her to send other ideas. She immediately followed up with alternatives, one being this jury duty angle. Persistence + good ideas = paid writing!
Freelance Writers and Jury Duty: What Every Writer Should Know
By Stephanie Faris
It arrives in the mail without warning: a letter with large bold letters reading, “Jury Summons.” Those two words strike instant dread in everyone who has a busy life. It could mean weeks of sitting in a courtroom all day until a court case reaches its natural conclusion. In the rare instance that a case requires sequestration, jury members may be confined to a hotel for months, with no access to the Internet.
For a freelancer, a jury summons can bring financial disaster. Most employers continue to pay their workers while serving on jury duty, but freelancers don’t have that luxury. Since jury members make $50 per day or less, depending on the state, self-employed workers will be forced to trade in regular wages for an amount that may not even cover food expenses. Before you panic, however, there are a few things you should know about jury duty and self-employed workers.
A jury summons is no guarantee you’ll ever sit on a jury. In fact, in many cases you won’t. The summons merely means you’re part of a large pool of people being considered as part of a jury pool. Courts send summons to more potential jurors than they need, realizing some people will be disqualified or non-responsive. Instead of traveling to court on a specified date, you’ll likely be assigned a phone number to call the day before your court date, letting you know whether you need to show up. In many cases, you’ll call the number over the course of your jury period and never be asked to show up in court.
One common misconception is that jury duty means weeks on one case. While there are such cases, often jurors are assigned to much shorter trials. You may find that your jury duty only spans a three-day period, serving as a short break from the daily rigor of writing life. You can also delay your jury duty if you think a later date will find you in better financial circumstances. In many states, you can choose the later date of service, which will allow you to prepare your clients for your absence and set money aside.
While many states consider everyone eligible for jury duty, including the self-employed, you may be able to present your issue to the judge if you are finally told to report to the courthouse. To be dismissed, you’ll need to convincingly explain why serving on a jury will present a hardship for your family. If you’re the sole wage earner in your family, for instance, and your freelance earnings will leave you unable to pay your bills, you may be able to convince a judge to exempt you.
Jury duty can be a great experience for a writer, providing inspiration for future pieces. However, for freelancers, every hour spent sitting in court is an hour of lost pay. While many jury summons will consist only of phone calls or a few days in court, it’s important that freelancers know all available options before that piece of mail arrives. For many, a delay may be the best option, allowing freelancers to know well in advance the dates they’ll be expected to serve.
Stephanie Faris is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 Days of No Gossip, 25 Roses, and the upcoming Piper Morgan series. She has been a full-time freelance writer since 2013, with her work having appeared on Cosmopolitan.com, XOJane, and Ecommerce Insiders, among many others. Twitter @stephfaris