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.
We are all about beginnings and endings.
It's exciting to start a new project or finally reach a long-term goal.
But whether it's weight loss, saving a certain amount of money or becoming a better trial attorney, the magic is in the middle.
The middle, however, isn't as exciting as the beginning or end. It's not fun to try things and fail. It's not super sexy to not be great at something the first time you try it.
But the middle is where you change and grow, and if you don't stop to enjoy the process of reaching your goal, you'll miss the best part.
For example, I'm on a journey to lose weight. Sure, it will be nice to reach my goal weight eventually, but I'm loving the journey.
I know it's hard to believe, but I am actually enjoying the entire process of losing weight.
I'm learning how to love myself at any size. I'm learning how to show up for myself when I'd rather quit. I'm learning to keep commitments to myself. In other words, I'm becoming the person I want to be NOW instead of waiting until I hit my goal.
How many of you embrace the journey to becoming the best trial attorney you can be? Although it can be hard at times, I'm telling you, what you're learning NOW is where it's all at.
We all want to believe there's a pot of gold waiting for us at the end of the rainbow. We tell ourselves that once we meet our goal THEN we'll finally be happy. The problem is, it doesn't work that way.
Results don't bring happiness. Effort does. Doing the work to lose weight, save money, become a trial attorney is where the happiness is but most of us miss it because we're so focused on the end result.
The journey is way more fun than the destination, but only if you embrace the magic in the middle.
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.
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!
Sari has been dubbed the "Attorney Whisperer" because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves.