If you've been following me for a while, you know I love thought work. Choosing how you think affects how you feel, which governs how you act which determines your results.
But just because we can choose our thoughts doesn't mean you'll never feel pain.
Sometimes life is painful.
What I'm concerned about is when you cause yourself unnecessary pain.
For example, when you lose a trial, it often hurts. And that's normal. I'm not suggesting that if you just thought about it differently, you'd stop feeling the pain of losing.
What I am suggesting is that you add to your distress when you beat yourself up, tell yourself you're a terrible lawyer, freak out and never go to trial again, etc.
All of that is unnecessary pain.
Isn't this job hard enough? Why add unnecessary pain to an already painful career?
Here's the deal: most of you fall into one of two camps: you either go out there and fight and then when you lose, cause yourself the unnecessary pain I just described, or you AVOID pain by living small and not taking risks or chances.
Neither is good.
The path to greatness begins when you take courageous action knowing it may cause you pain. And when that pain comes, you feel it. You don't drink it away, eat it away, sleep it away or otherwise shove it down. You accept it and let it be.
Learning how to BE with your pain is where things get good. The "greats" have all accepted that pain is a part of life and instead of avoiding it, they accept it as part of the deal.
Stop avoiding pain by playing small or adding pain by beating yourself up and instead, embrace the pain that life (and this career) naturally brings. You'll be much happier, I promise, when you can learn to live with pain instead of attempting to outrun it all the time.
Give From Hostage to Hero Podcast "Episode 44-How to Deal with Pain" a listen to learn more.
This one's going out to the ladies.
But men, there's stuff here for you too.
In nearly every seminar I present, I always get a question from a female trial lawyer in the audience. It usually goes like this:
"How do you suggest women use these techniques?"
"The same way men use these techniques. My advice does not change depending on what's in your underwear."
But here's the thing: these women aren't asking how to use the techniques, as I have just demonstrated how to use them in the seminar they just attended.
What they're really asking is, "How do I use these techniques and not get corrected/penalized/judged?"
And that's an entirely different question.
The truth of the matter is, women are unfairly chastised when they show up in a big, bold way in the courtroom (or anywhere else for that matter.)
And it's also true that women need to do it anyway.
Look, I get it. There's a lot on the line and there are consequences for women who dare show up authoritatively or wear what's comfortable or any of the hundreds of things men are allowed to do without anyone batting an eye.
But what I'm saying is, someone has to go first.
Someone always has to go first.
I firmly believe it is this generation of women that are going to change things. The women who are practicing law today are the ones who are willing to say, consequences be damned, "I'm done hiding who I am just so other people can be comfortable."
And with this bold step, they will make it comfortable for women in other professions to do the same.
There is no other option. You either bend yourself into a pretzel in an attempt to not piss anyone off, or you boldly go where very few women have gone before, and decide, right here and now, that you won't step back for anyone, even if it costs you a verdict.
But I don't think it will. Doing this job as long as I have has shown me one thing consistently: jurors love people, men OR women, who are comfortable in their own skin. Jurors love confidence. Jurors love lawyers who show up in a real, authentic way.
Does this mean you should make it all about you, aggressively throw your weight around or do things just to piss people off? No, and that advice stands for men as well.
Great communication is all about timing. You must know what is needed when. So show up as your big bad self, but also learn how to read your audience and adapt your communication so you are serving their needs as well.
Lady lawyers, I salute you and stand with you as you boldly stand up for your right to communicate, dress and lawyer any way you damn well please.
Give this podcast a listen to learn more.
It's easy to get angry at trial.
Lying witnesses, judges who block your planned voir dire, and opposing counsel that continually object have a way of getting you hot under the collar.
But communicating anger at trial can be dangerous.
First off, anger can cloud your judgement. Allowing yourself to get angry can take you off your game and cause you to make decisions that aren't good for you or your client.
Second, communicating anger at trial sends the message to jurors: "This.Is.Personal." Which means you are now, nonverbally, at least, asking the jury to award you, the trial lawyer, a verdict, instead of your client. No jury is willing to do that.
But third, and most importantly, anger communicated at trial reduces the amount of "space" allowed for anger. When you get angry at trial, you force jurors to "balance out" the emotional energy. If you're angry, they must remain calm, or the atmosphere gets too tense.
There are three things you can do when you feel angry at trial:
Don't let anger take you off course. When you feel angry, breathe and try and drop it. If you can't, let it be. And if appropriate, express it.
Remember: the truth needs no defense; it needs a voice. Your job is to be that voice so truth can prevail at trial.
Give this podcast a listen to learn more.
Last week I talked about getting clear on want.
But knowing what you want is only half the battle. You also have to want the side of shit that comes with your want.
In other words, when you pick up one end of the stick, you also pick up the other.
Here's what I mean:
Every "want" has a shadow side.
Want a satisfying relationship with someone?
Choosing that means you're also choosing disagreements, not being able to make decisions without taking someone else into consideration, not sleeping with other people and all sorts of other things.
Want to have a kick ass body?
Choosing that means you're also choosing not eating whatever the hell you want, spending time exercising instead of doing other things, drinking lots of water instead of alcohol, etc.
Want to run a business?
Choosing that means you're also choosing mundane tasks, managing people, financial ups and downs and lots of other non-sexy things.
You have to embrace the shadow side of your work. Opposing counsel that makes every interaction a drawn-out nightmare. Putting up your own money. Clients who make your life miserable.
These are the things that come with the job you've chosen. Seeing this clearly instead of shaking your fist in the air stops unnecessary suffering. You have enough stress in your life. Stop being surprised that this job is hard. Embrace it.
You can, and should, get clear on what you want. But as you do that, also consider that whatever you choose, you're choosing the shadow side too.
When you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other. Choose wisely.
Have you ever been told you need to, "Own the space?"
What does that actually mean?
Let's first discuss what we mean by "space." We tend to think of space as what is contained within the four walls we're communicating in. But space is not contained by walls. You can enlarge or shrink the space, affecting how it feels to others.
By bringing awareness to it.
Have you ever gone out to eat with someone and felt as though they weren't "there?" One of two things are possible in that scenario: they are either in their head, shrinking the space so small that you feel left out, or they have taken in the entire restaurant into their awareness making you feel lost in it.
How you think about space affects how it feels.
Most presenters, when standing in front of an audience, are in their heads, and it shows. When you're thinking about your content or nervous about what you're about to say, you appear small and constricted to others.
However, when you expand your sense of space, bringing in the entire room and its occupants, and maybe even the hallway outside or the entire building, you expand. You appear large and in charge to others.
But you not only have to increase your awareness of space, you have to move as though you belong there.
That means no side-stepping, no backing up, and no sashaying. (But do send video if you do this.) Just turn and walk normally. Use big gestures and pausing. This communicates to jurors, "I belong here. This is my space. Welcome."
And THAT is what it means to "own the space." Even if you are, however briefly, borrowing it from the judge. ;)
To learn more, give this podcast a listen.
Last week we looked at one of the limiting beliefs so many of you hold: there is a right way to do this. (This, meaning trial.)
Today’s limiting belief is similar but not quite the same. And that’s the belief that you have to be like [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here] to win cases.
It’s soooo tempting to see the “greats” and attempt to mimic their style, thinking that they’ve somehow figured out the way to win, and if you mimic what they’re doing you can win too.
Here’s the mind-blowing truth: the reasons the “greats” are great is because they’ve learned how to let go of their limiting beliefs and just show up as their real-deal selves.
Want to know what Gerry Spence is better at than anyone else on the planet? Being Gerry Spence.
Yes, you need to have command of the law and be well versed in various trial methods and techniques. I’m not suggesting that “authenticity” is all you need at trial. But so many of you believe that if you just had [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here]’s style, personality, dare I use the word…charisma…THEN you’d have it made in the shade.
You don’t need to be anyone but yourself. Working with as many of you as I do, I cringe as I watch you attempt to scrub yourself clean of any perceived faults all while bending yourself into a pretzel in an attempt to show up like [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here].
Stop. Stop the madness.
YOU ARE ENOUGH. Not only are you enough, when you attempt to be like [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here] you overlook your most powerful weapon at trial: your uniqueness.
Trial is a battle over credibility. The most credible person wins. What is the foundation of credibility? Authenticity. Show up like you. Yes, keep learning and practicing. But stop believing that you have to be like [insert-famous-trial-attorney-here] to win. You don’t. You just need to be you.
Jurors are hostages, but so are you. You are a hostage of fear.
In order to conquer your fear, we need to look at some limiting beliefs that are getting in your way. Today we’re looking at a limiting belief I find SO many trial attorneys hold:
There’s a right way to do this. (This, meaning trial.)
Not a day goes by that I don’t get an email of some sort or another claiming that THEIR method is the key to winning at trial.
I see the same thing in my private work with clients: there’s always some new method clients want to use whether that’s Nick Rowley’s brutal honesty or Keith Mitnik’s Don’t Eat the Bruises or whatever else has just hit the market.
There’s nothing wrong with trying new things at trial. There’s a lot of great stuff out there that’s geared toward helping you increase your skill as a trial attorney. Taking advantage of these things isn’t the problem. The problem is the belief that there is a formula out that will teach you the ONE RIGHT WAY TO DO THIS.
Uh oh. Here comes the bad news.
It doesn’t exist.
And believing it does causes all sorts of problems.
First and foremost, it causes you stress, in addition to costing you money and time.
But more importantly, believing there is a formula trains your instincts out of you. Instincts are felt in the body, not the brain. Yes, those messages are sent to the brain from the body, allowing you the choice of whether or not to take action on those instincts, but instincts occur in the body.
Yet most trial attorneys view their body as a way to just carry their heads around. You’re not tuned into all the body wisdom because you’re so focused on all the “formulas” floating around out there instead of dipping into the wisdom you already possess.
Trial work is hard. Formulas are easy. They promise an easy fix. In addition, they give you a way out: if you fail, you can blame the method, right? It’s the method’s fault, that’s all. So then the search begins anew for the next best thing allowing you to bypass the truly hard work that trial demands: working on yourself.
Here’s what’s missing: MASTERY.
Most trial attorneys flit from one thing to another, try a method, then drop it. Then they move onto the next thing.
It takes work and practice to master a skill. You have limited time, energy and money. Instead of sampling from the buffet of choices, why not decide, once and for all, that there is no right way to do this and focus on mastering whatever it is you’re learning?
Drop the reliance on formulas. Stop chasing the shiny new thing. Focus on becoming the best you possible and mastering the skills needed along the way. This is how you’ll begin to grow your confidence and let go of your fear.
I am pleased to announce that my book, From Hostage to Hero, is currently being edited by Trial Guides and will hopefully be out later this year.
To assist trial attorneys who want to engage with me and my method, we’ve designed several ways to do so:
First, you can subscribe to my From Hostage to Hero podcast. Available on iTunes or on my website, in this podcast I’ll discuss ways to help move your hostile group to one that wants to take action for you and your client.
Second, you can join my free Facebook Group: From Hostage to Hero Facebook Group by clicking here and asking for access. You must be a civil plaintiff attorney or criminal defense attorney to join. I’ll be live, each week in the Facebook group teaching and taking questions. In addition, this blog, along with the podcast, will be posted to the group. There will be group discussion starters, trial tips and other goodies as well.
Third, you can add yourself to the waitlist to know when The Amplify Project will open by visiting amplify-project.com. What is The Amplify Project you ask? It will be an online community that is available by subscription only. Inside the project you’ll find my Path to Power course, my Power of Attorney course, nonverbal videos, workbooks, sample openings and voir dires, coaching and live training. You do -not- want to miss it when the project opens as it will only be open for 5 days and we’ll only open the project a few times a year. Want to learn more? Take the Free Course at amplify-project.com and subscribe to the TAP Into Your Power: The Amplify Project Podcast on iTunes.
Finally, you’ll receive a weekly digest on Mondays that will include this weekly blog, a preview of the upcoming podcast and FB live, and other announcements that will keep you informed, such as when the book will be available.
I look forward to interacting with you here on the blog, in the FB group and through the podcasts. Get ready to learn how to move not only the jurors, but yourself, from hostage to hero!
Rachel, my colleague here at FORTE sent this article to me yesterday, titled, The Green Smoothie Problem: Why Others Don’t Buy Your Ideas. In it the author discusses a common problem using an analogy of offering someone a green smoothie:
“Imagine I just handed you a smoothie in a glass. ‘It’s a green smoothie. Wanna drink it?’
If you’ve never seen or heard of a smoothie like that, you’d react in one of two ways:
Simply by handing you the smoothie, I’ve immediately put you at an information disadvantage. As a result, you anchor to a past precedent or try to draw confidence from others in order to fill in the gaps in your knowledge as quickly as possible. If my goal is to get you to drink the smoothie, I’ve done a rather poor job. I’ve merely handed you the drink and left you to do all the reasoning to influence your decision.
But if I really wanted to influence your decision, what if I shared the reasoning too?
What if, rather than simply hand you the smoothie, I laid out the details of how I came up with it?”
I was immediately struck by how the Green Smoothie Problem applies to voir dire. So often attorneys will begin voir dire by asking questions and offer no context or reasoning for why they are asking. Jurors, who are already at a disadvantage by having the least amount of information in the room, are immediately put on the defensive; if they don’t understand why you’re asking the question, they are afraid that whatever answer they give may be the “wrong” one.
Giving context helps put jurors at ease and helps you get more information. Which is why I suggest always giving a “context statement” before asking a question, or set of questions, in voir dire.
For example, if your case involves a car crash, before asking jurors, “Who here has ever been in a car crash?” Simply state, “This case involves a car crash.” If the case involves a hospital, before asking people about their experiences with hospitals, say, “This case involves a hospital.”
Other context statement examples include:
“In this case, someone was injured in a car crash.”
“In this case, there is a disagreement about what caused the crash.”
“This case involves an insurance claim that was not paid.”
Attorneys who hear this advice for the first time will often say to me, “But the judge reads a statement of the case before voir dire begins! Why repeat that info?”
The answer is twofold. One, the statement by the judge is read in its entirety, where voir dire will examine various aspects of a juror’s belief piece by piece. Two, the person who has the most information is the most powerful person in the room. Why leave that power sitting in the judge’s lap? Giving jurors context as you work your way through voir dire increases your credibility while empowering the jury at the same time. It’s win/win.
To learn more about my trial method, visit my Trial Tips page to watch videos on various trial topics, or subscribe to my newsletter to receive these blogs and videos directly into your inbox.
His hands shook violently. So violently that the notes he held only served to illustrate the shaking to the jury. His voice cracked as he spoke. I had put him third; my thought was that seeing two other lawyers present to the jury before him might help him relax. But no, he was as nervous as ever. I tried to read his body language so I could give him feedback later; was he in approachable or authoritative stance? His knees were practically buckling; it was impossible to tell. His “stance” was an attempt to not fall over.
This past weekend was our Opening Statement Studio. Six lawyers from all over the United States came to Portland to work with me for four days on increasing their presence, nonverbal intelligence and presentation skills. We worked on storytelling, teaching and how to deal with objections while playing with breathing and body language and a host of other skills.
After a day and a half of prep, the lawyers arrived Saturday morning to face two mock juries. Each attorney had 20 minutes to present his or her opening and then 10 minutes to hear from the jury and get my feedback. The entire thing would be videotaped.
As I watched this attorney present his opening, I worried about whether or not he’d make it through. But as he began telling the story of what happened to his client, things began to shift. Still nervous as hell, he used a single chair to illustrate to the jury the scene where this all happened. He became, before our very eyes, the characters in those chairs and told the story of how a woman’s life was cut short by a negligent doctor. At one point he ran to the door and shouted, “Call an ambulance!” and it was as if we were there on the day it happened. The jury held their breath as they watched him demonstrate a husband performing CPR on his own wife.
As he brought his opening to a close, his hands were still shaking. The jury, however, was now in tears. I, too, had to fight the urge to allow the tears that had just welled up in my eyes tumble down my cheeks.
Once the jury finished their written feedback, I asked them: “Did you notice that the attorney was nervous?” They all nodded. I then asked, “Who here thinks that this attorney is less credible because he was nervous?” Not a single hand was raised. In fact, as the jury began giving their verbal feedback to the attorney they spoke about his incredible storytelling skills, his ability to make the characters come to life, and how after a 20 minute opening in a complex medical-malpractice case they were ready and willing to award him any amount he asked. His nervousness wasn’t even a factor.
1. The attorney didn’t let the nervousness distract him. He didn’t try to shove it down, but he didn’t let it distract him from the job at hand either. And if it wasn’t distracting to him, it wasn’t distracting to the jury. He taught the jury to ignore it, and they did.
2. The nervousness made him real. Jurors are on high alert for any type of manipulation; had this attorney told this story with perfect poise and perfection, I guarantee you that the jury would have viewed it as a “manipulation” and dismissed it out of hand. Because the attorney was visibly nervous the jury found him more credible, not less.
3. The nervousness made him human. We’ve all been nervous at some point in our lives, whether that was when we asked our boss for a promotion or at our 5th grade piano recital. Nervousness is a human condition. When this attorney embraced his nervousness and presented his opening anyway, he communicated to the jury “I’m just like you.” And they loved him for it.
Nervousness only becomes a credibility issue when we let it distract us from the job we’re attempting to do. Instead of dreading it, embrace your nervousness! Being nervous communicates that whatever you’re attempting to do means something. Forging ahead says to your audience “not only does this mean something to me, it means so much that I’m willing to talk about it even if it makes my knees buckle.”
That takes courage.
Taking courageous action increases your credibility. So the next time you’re literally “shaking in your boots” I suggest you see it as a good thing. Take a deep breath, hold your head high, and let your passion for your subject come through.
Sari de la Motte is the CEO and founder of FORTE, a communications consulting firm that specializes in helping attorneys communicate their real selves. Are you working on a case and need help? Schedule a free 30 minute consultation with Sari now!
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