Robin Williams was an important part of my law school experience. In 1978, I was a second year law student, supporting a wife and our eight-month-old son while attending school full time. My schedule was crowded. In the morning I went to classes. When classes were finished, I drove to a law office where I worked every day until 7:00 p.m. I’d return home, eat dinner with my wife and son, then go to the library to study until 11:00 p.m.
Tuesday nights were different. After Tuesday dinner I engaged in a luxury to preserve my sanity: I watched the insanity of Robin Williams on Mork and Mindy.
Mork and Mindy was not an original concept. During the 60s “My Favorite Martian” staring Bill Bixby and Ray Walston portrayed a Martian visiting earth known only to the good-hearted earthling who allowed the Martian to live with him. By all counts, Mork and Mindy had no chance as a repackaging of My Favorite Martian. But Robin Williams took the storyline of a visitor from outer space with a secret identity to a whole new level. He arrived in an egg-shaped spacecraft, when he sees eggs on Mindy’s counter he thinks, visitors from space, and lofts an egg into the air saying, “Be free and fly.” Gravity being what it is the result was obvious and my laughter at the absurdity was joyous.
Robin Williams’ Gift
Robin Williams’ gift was the ability to take a character, analyze it, incorporated into himself, and then stretch to exaggeration either in drama as in “The Fisher King,” or comedy with “Mrs. Doubtfire.” That is his genius.
Williams was high-energy, high intellect, high output, high influence.
In the Moment During Trial
This constellation of characteristics that drew people to Williams is the same set of characteristics that can serve one very well in trial. It is by establishing an empathetic connection with a jury that we are able to draw them to ourselves, engage them in our story, and have them help bring justice in the courtroom. Continue reading “Robin Williams: In the Moment, In the Trial”
A friend asked me, “What is your stock in trade?”
I answered, “Persuasion. Trial lawyers are merchants of persuasion.” My answer caused me to ponder a great deal on trial lawyers as “merchants of persuasion.”
Try defining “persuasion” without using the words “persuade” or “convince?”
My Definition of “Persuasion”
I define “persuasion” as “influencing perception.” The old saw from politics, “perception is reality” applies with a double portion in trial. The way jurors perceive you or your case, is their reality. Continue reading “Fishing for Tuna in a Lake: Persuasion in Trial”
Jesse Wilson, a reader from Colorado (firstname.lastname@example.org) uses theater to “transform lives and business.” My recent post on “Story” prompted him to email me about conflict in story.
Continue reading “Internal Conflict: Obstacles Are Opportunities”
From man’s earliest times, telling stories has been how we entertained each other late at night around the fire, communicated the joy of the hunt, and shared the pain of loss. As trial attorneys, we are the inheritors of the tradition of story.
Rather than sitting around a campfire, weaving tales late into the night to enthrall our friends, we now stand in the killing pit we call a courtroom and talk to twelve silent, supposedly non-responsive members of the public who are there to do their civic duty.
I fear that by and large, we as lawyers do not value the persuasive power of story. I have seen lawyers in trial say,
“This case concerns a two-car motor vehicle accident that occurred on December 13, 2000, at the corner of Bristol Drive and Anton Parkway in Costa Mesa, California. The Plaintiff was the sole occupant of her vehicle that was at rest awaiting a red light at said intersection. Defendant’s vehicle failed to stop and struck Plaintiff’s vehicle from the rear.”
Can you hear the snores? Imagine how much worse it would be if that attorney was giving the opening statement in a partnership dissolution case, or an easement dispute, or a trust litigation.
Attorneys’ stock in trade is story. If that is our tool, shouldn’t we know what a story is? Shouldn’t we know how to create a story? Aren’t we like the director of a movie painting word pictures with scenery, characters, conflict, drama, and resolution? Until we think of ourselves like that, we will never fully understand how to present compelling trials for our clients. Continue reading “Stories: Campfires and Courtrooms”
I received an interesting response to my blog post, “Three Comments About Losing a Trial.” Tony F. Graf, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, American Samoa, sent me a note about the challenges he has persuading juries in American Samoa. I want to share his comments with you to make a point:
Continue reading “Persuading Juries: The Heart vs The Head”