What's the first thing you do when you screw up?
Well, if you're like most people, you try to forget it as fast as possible.
I've talked a lot about failure in this space and on my podcast, but the only way to really learn from your failure and grow as a trial attorney (or anything else) is to feel your way into it.
Here's an example:
A trial attorney came out to work with me last month. During his opening statement to our mock jury, something went wrong and instead of course correcting, I could see his inner critic take over. The opening got choppier and choppier and when he ended, I could tell he felt badly about his performance.
It would have been very easy to try and make him feel better. I could have told him it was fine. I could have reminded him about what a good trial attorney he is. I could have switched gears and done a new activity to build his confidence.
Instead I did nothing. I let him feel his failure. I didn't argue with him when he said he felt it went terribly. I just let him be with what he was feeling.
When he was ready, we watched the video of the opening and processed our way through it. We then tried the opening again, and this time, I watched him perform more passionately than I'd ever seen him perform before.
Here's what's important: When the attorney sat with his disappointment, he eventually realized, on his own, that it was his inner critic that caused his opening to go awry. He wasn't broken, ineffective or untalented. He just let his inner critic take over for a moment and, by really feeling what that was like, he decided he never wanted to do that again.
Had he ran away from his failure, he wouldn't have recognized what actually happened during his opening. He would have instead told himself to just work harder, when in reality, he didn't need to work harder at all. He just needed to ignore his inner critic the next time it started yapping at him when he made a minor "mistake."
When we attempt to run away from our pain, we don't learn. The first step to greatness is to be willing to fail. But merely failing is not enough. You need to feel your way into it.
Here's a podcast episode that talks about this in more depth.
Only seven, you ask?
I know you aren't trying to annoy jurors, (at least I hope not) but there are certain things that you may be doing that are out of your awareness. Let's look at what they are.
#1: Using the hobby question. You want to "warm jurors up." I get it. But asking about hobbies makes light of the situation. No juror wakes up to a jury summons in the mail and thinks, "Ooh goodie! I can't wait to go have a relationship with Mr. or Ms. Attorney!" Avoid this question, at least at the beginning. Jurors are hungry for information, so give it to them.
#2: Telling jurors how important they are. Look, jurors are important, but they sure don't feel important. They've been forced to come to court, shoved in a room and told to wait, corralled into the courtroom and told where to sit, and branded with a plastic sticker that reads: JUROR, telling other people to avoid them! Is it any wonder they roll their eyes when you stand up in front of them and tell them how important they are? Instead, show them. Listen to them. Which brings us to #3...
#3: Not listening. You tell jurors how important they are and that you want to hear from them, then as they speak you dart your eyes around the box, look at your watch or cut them off. Huh? Stop it. Listen to jurors. Intently and with focus. This is what shows them how important they are.
#4: Gimmicks. It's so tempting to try a gimmick you picked up at a seminar, but I implore you to reconsider. Jurors are on high alert for manipulation of any kind. Drop the gimmicks and back away slowly. You don't need them! You just need to show up authentically and let the jury see who you really are. That's it.
#5: Rewording what jurors say. In an attempt to practice "reflective listening" many of you, instead of repeating back what jurors say, reword what they said. This feels manipulative to jurors. If you want to clarify an answer, ask questions instead of rewording.
#6: Making jurors feel stupid. You inadvertently make jurors feel stupid in two ways: 1) you use terms the juror doesn't understand and 2) you ask "should" questions. Should questions are questions like, "What should the doctor have done?" If a juror doesn't know, uh oh. Instead use, "What were your expectations of the doctor?" And of course, always clarify terms before throwing them around so jurors can easily follow the discussion.
#7: Dumb explanations of bias or the jury selection process. Please avoid talking to jurors like they're in 3rd grade and don't understand bias. Instead, tell them about the principles in the case and discuss those principles. That's where you'll find bias, not by lecturing about it ahead of time.
You don't need to do any of the things above to win the hearts and minds of jurors. You just need you. Really.
Give this podcast a listen to learn more.
Verbal information is the most difficult information to get across. Because verbal information is difficult to process, audiences tend to tune out things they don’t understand or have trouble following.
The answer, then, is to create hundreds of PowerPoint slides, right?
No. No no no.
Last year I had an attorney come through my opening statement class. A few weeks before the start of the class, he sent me a 150-slide slide deck.
That’s when I knew we were in trouble.
After he presented his opening to the jury, one juror said, “I thought you were very credible.” The attorney responded, “Thank you!” But the juror continued, “until you started with all the PowerPoints. That’s when you lost all credibility with me.”
When you use hundreds of PowerPoints, what message do you send jurors? This case is really complex. It’s so complex, in fact, it’s going to take HUNDREDS of PowerPoints for me to explain it to you. This is not the message you want to send to jurors.
SO complex = TOO complex = Defense Verdict.
In addition, using tons of PowerPoints interferes with your ability to connect with jurors. Jurors can only look at one thing at a time; you or something else. If you’re constantly using PowerPoints, that means jurors must look at the PowerPoints, not you. You’re missing out on real connection with jurors when you use an insane number of PowerPoints.
I'm not saying never use PowerPoints. What I am saying is every single visual you use should support your presentation, not detract from it. You may think that PowerPoints reduce information overload, but they often do the opposite.
YOU are the main attraction in opening. Focus on telling a good story with excellent nonverbal communication. Use visual information to deepen a juror’s understanding, not as a substitute for teaching from you.
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.
Sari has been dubbed the "Attorney Whisperer" because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves.