June 27th, 2016

I Know That I Know Nothing

54780441 - graffiti on a brick wall - live in the moment

Socrates reportedly said, “I know that I know nothing.” An internet review reveals many comments on what Socrates meant by his “know nothing” statement.

To me Socrates means a wise person approaches any situation without a preconceived agenda. A preconceived agenda assumes the person has thought out a future event and pre-planned how he is going to deal with the future event. Thus, he goes into the event believing he knows what is going to happen, and how he is going to react. He then reacts in a plastic pre-planned way.

Socrates’ statement, he knows that he knows nothing, translates to going into an event with an open mind. Following Socrates’ philosophy requires one to live in the moment without a preconceived agenda. It requires us to trust our self in the present and to react in our natural spontaneous way. In this way we are open to the moment and appreciate what is happening in the now with full awareness of the now.

As lawyers, when we follow the know nothing philosophy, we practice law without a preconceived agenda. We are present in the moment. We are open to what is occurring in the moment. We naturally react to the moment, and this natural reaction will be recognized by others as “real.”

Now a days I am trying to follow the Socrates method of realizing I know nothing. In the initial client interview this allows me to focus on my potential client. Thus, I listen without an agenda. I listen without pre-thinking my response before my potential client finishes her story. I allow her story to sink in, and then react in the moment, trying not to be judgmental. My potential client sees and feels my presence and that she is talking to a lawyer who is open to her story and understands her story.

This accomplishes several things: first, it makes me a lawyer who lives in the moment, without an agenda and who fully appreciates his potential client; second, it allows me to discover my client at my highest level; and third, I am then able to obtain the best result possible by staying in the moment without an agenda.

    May 16th, 2016

    Zen Lawyer Volume II


    patMy Zen Lawyer Blog was started in April 2010. We have tried to use non-copyrighted internet photographs or illustrations to support our blog content. All blog written content has been drafted by Patrick Trudell and edited by Patrick Trudell.

    Several months ago out of caution, and to insure compliance with copyright law, we deleted almost all of the illustrations and photographs that supported our initial blog content. We have now made arrangements to only post photographs or illustrations that are original to us or that we have express prior approval to post.

    This has lead us to re-post prior blog content. Prior blog content that is being re-posted has been re-edited.  Additionally, we will be continuing to post new content so the blog is a combination of updating prior posts  and continuing to post new content.


      May 10th, 2016

      Personal Injury as Tragedy

      Having learned from Simon Rifkind all trials are plays, (See Lessons from Simon Rifkind), I sought a theatrical formula appealing to audiences over time that mirrors a personal injury case. The type of play that fits a personal injury case is tragedy. Research reveals Aristotle in Poetics sets forth what has become the classic formula of tragedy.

      Plato and Aristotle argue10223276_Sd on whether the study of tragedy was worth a philosopher’s time. Plato maintained all theater including tragedy is simply entertainment that does not rise to the level of interest to a philosopher. Aristotle disagreed. Aristotle argued tragedy at the highest level involved the audience. The audience sees the tragic plot in cause and effect sequences that mirror universal truth. In high level tragedy two things happen to members of the audience. First, they pity the tragic hero. Second, they fear the tragic result (the adversity) could happen to them. Aristotle maintains when this occurs the audience experiences a cathartic event – a purification or spiritual renewal.


      Applied to a personal injury case, when it is tried at the highest level, the jury identifies with the plaintiff and pities the tragic result dealt plaintiff. The jury also fears the result could happen to them. The catharsis occurs in the verdict as the jury rights the wrong in the only way this can be done as jurors.

      It is important to note true tragedy is not staged or made up. As taught by Aristotle it represents reality. Tragedy happens in life. People recognize tragedy and if possible want to remedy tragedy. This is why it makes sense for a personal injury lawyer to study the dynamics of tragedy. When these dynamics are present in we have a case worthy of the production of a trial.

        April 29th, 2016

        Lessons from Simon Rifkind

         The late Simon Rifkind was a Wall Street lawyer and partner in the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind. He was appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, as Federal Judge, 19604344_SSouthern District of New York, where he served from 1941-1950. He voluntarily left the federal bench because he was bored by poor lawyering which according to Rifkind, was the rule rather then the exception.

        Mr. Rifkind’s passion was trying cases. He was a renaissance trial lawyer in that he never wanted to try the same type of case more then once. Rather he wanted to try cases in differing subject areas so he could immerse himself into the area. This allowed him to learn about new areas of life and law through trying cases.

        Once a case gets to trial, Simon Rifkind believes the dynamics of trial take place. To Rifkind, a trial is a play. There is a hero (usually his client) and a villain (usually the opposition). The jury is the audience, the judge, lawyers, and witness actors. The lawyer has a unique position as he is both an actor and producer of the play. Rifkind teaches, trials like plays, must have a theme. The theme should announce the client’s cause with the ends of justice.

        Rifkind is right, a trial is like a play. From a client standpoint, the biggest mistake occurs when the client appears to be too involved with their lawyer in trying the case. This is off plot. The lawyer is the person who is expected to try the case. When the client appears to be telling the lawyer what to do, or when the client appears too strident, jurors dislike the client; the client loses the image of the hero and becomes a wanna be lawyer. The client will lose when
        this happens.

        From a lawyer’s perspective it is essential to remain like a duck. A duck looks calm above the water, but below the water unobserved the duck is paddling briskly to stay afloat. The lawyer must keep a cool demeanor in the face of the adversity that will occur at trial. The lawyer must also show professionalism to opposition counsel, witnesses, and the judge. The lawyer should never appear to be a bully or out of control. There is nothing wrong with destroying an opposition witness, and this at times needs to be done, but it needs to be performed calmly, methodically and with professionalism.

        It is also important to recognize that unlike a play, the stage in a trial is anywhere a juror may observe the client, lawyer, or witnesses. Rifkind would agree to dress and act like going to and being in church at all times anywhere in or even near the courthouse. This will not in and of itself win the case, but if lack of professionalism is observed by a juror this harms the case.

          March 22nd, 2015

          What If

          IMG_0497Constantine Stanislavski refers to “The Magic of If” in his classic book “An Actor Prepares. Here Stanislavski instructs acting students to put themself into the emotion of their part by imagining what it is like “if” they (are in the same situation their part places them in). Thus, if an actor is playing the part of a former soldier who has had his leg amputated Stanislavski teaches to imagine what it would be like to live life with a missing a leg. This allows a natural emotional spontaneity to emerge as the actor places himself into the action aspect of the part with his leg missing.

          Recently, I came across an excellent article in the King County Bar Association Bar Bulletin: Daniel Dugan, The Turning Point (March 2015) at 14-15, where Duggan a Trial Consultant discusses his concept he terms “The Turning Point.” Duggan teaches “The Turning Point” is a story telling technique using “counterfactual thinking.” “Counterfactual thinking is a technique where you ask a person to describe the opposite of the situation they are in now.” Id. at 15.

          A counterfactual question “elicits rich responses revealing motivation, emotion and a glimpse at a person’s view of fate or destiny.” Id. Duggan goes on to reason that counterfactual reasoning by jurors allows them to see our case from our client’s perspective.

          To illustrate Duggan suggests we invite the jury to imagine how our client’s life would be if her injury had not occurred. “Well to understand this ladies and gentlemen you will hear from Katie’s  [lay witness] who will tell you Katie’s life would  be… .”  This allows for two story lines-one life as a result of being injured, and the second one with a life cruising along without injury. “The gap between these two story lines will now appear huge and graphic.” Id.

          And the jury goes from the typical mindset of does Katie deserve X amount of money to I get it X amount of money will get Katie’s life back on track. The jury’s verdict becomes the “tool that jurors use to make one life out of the two paths that lay before…[Katie] at the time of [her injury.]” Id. Although her injury forced Katie down her life changing path, the jurors can get Katie back on track because “they understand what it will take to do that.” Id.

          Combining Stanislavski’s “if” with Duggan’s  “counterfactual thinking” allows for our jurors to have a unique perspective and gives them the tool of the gap to fill in the difference between the two lives.


            March 18th, 2015

            Jury Thoughts

            JuryDuty42_sgl_PRTv1Jury Selection.  Lawyers refer to jury selection as voir dire which is a Latin term for speak the truth. The problem with the term voir dire is most jurors likely have no idea what the lawyer is talking about when the term voir dire is used. To jurors what is happening is “jury selection.” When the lawyer says “voir dire” jurors hear “lawyer speak language”  from a person acting like a lawyer. This separates the speaker from the jurors who do not talk in “lawyer speak.”

            Being a Lawyer. At Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College we immediately learn “we have a problem.” The problem is we are lawyers, and in our jury trials it is generally the case that our jurors are not lawyers. Our jury is a “tribe,” and the tribe is looking for a leader. The leader is potentially one of the competing lawyers. And the leader is “the voice of the tribe.” The voice of the tribe will likely be a voice similar  to the other tribal members.When we address the tribe in “lawyerese,” speaking like a lawyer, we speak in a foreign voice with a foreign presence. So our first job is to speak like a “real person”and conduct ourself  like a “real person.”

            Being Real. As we learn in The Velveteen Rabbit:

            When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt,.. . It dosen’t happen all at once,… you become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to [lawyers] who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally by the time you are Real [appearance is secondary]. But [fancy appearance] doesn’t matter, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.

            Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit.

            When we are real and speak in the tribe’s language we can’t be ugly to the tribe because the tribe understands.



              November 20th, 2014

              The Villain/Outlier Defendant


              In early posts we introduced the concept of Personal Injury as Tragedy. The elements of personal injury as tragedy are: Hero (an honest plaintiff), Adversity (the injury), Attempting to Overcome Adversity (necessary medical treatment), and Inability to Overcome (permanent injuries). This formula emphasizes the injured plaintiff.

              Although the formula is essential for the jury to relate to our injured plaintiff it fails to recognize in today’s legal climate the jury is conditioned by insurance propaganda to mistrust the injured plaintiff and her lawyer. Often the fact we have an honest legitimately injured plaintiff is not enough. In todays legal climate we must recognize the jury may not care about our plaintiff.

              So what do jurors care about? The answer is themselves. In other words jurors consciously and subconsciously want to know “What’s in it for Me.” This means jurors respond when we demonstrate both the elements of tragedy and a reason to compensate plaintiff that benefits jurors. Here the introduction of a villain completes the equation that leads to a willingness to act through a decent verdict.

              By villain we me an outlier defendant. Outlier defendants in a car collision case include DUI drivers, drivers texting going into the crash, and high speed drivers. Drivers doing something going into the collision that has no redeeming quality such that jurors do not see themselves engaging in defendant’s conduct which is seen as unsafe and stupid. (The DUI defendant is made known to the jury in an admitted liability case when plaintiff has anxiety, ptsd, or a psychological reaction based on defendant’s outlier conduct).

              In a medical malpractice case against a hospital we need an outlier hospital that engages in conduct other hospitals would not do because of patient safety considerations. The same is true when defendant is a medical doctor. The jury must see the doctor as one whose conduct is dangerous to plaintiff and to other potential patients.

              Outlier corporate defendants must be guilty of conduct that violates rules other like kind corporations would not and do not violate. It is also important for the outlier defendant to show no remorse and even better when the lawyer is stupid enough to try to justify or deny the conduct.

              This villain/outlier defendant concept has some likeness to the “reptile” concept as taught by David Ball and Don Keenan.  We get what Ball and Keenan teach and respect them. But we think the “reptile” is too simplistic as it fails to address the emotional part of our thought process which is where lasting memories and beliefs come from.

              The point is jurors need more than an injured plaintiff whenever the injured plaintiff appears to look OK. This is because most jurors do not care about our injured plaintiff. When jurors recognize a combination of outlier defendant conduct giving rise to hurting our plaintiff they see this as a problem that they should address. This is because the conduct is outside of what they would do and they could be harmed by this type of conduct. It is their civic duty to do something about it and this benefits them.




                October 30th, 2014

                Facts v. Feeling

                “Then where Should I start?”

                Start what, for Christ’s sake?”

                “Researching the history of the area. Of Derry Township.”

                ‘”Oh. Well. Start with the Fricke and the Michaud. They’re supposed to be the best.”

                “And after I read those-”

                Read them? Christ, no! Throw em in the wastebasket! That’s your first step. Then read Buddinger. Branson Buddinger was a damned sloppy researcher…but when it came to Derry his heart was in the right place. He got most of the facts wrong but he got them wrong with feeling.”

                Stephen King, It (1986).

                Recently at a Trial Lawyers College weekend seminar we dealt with closing argument. In working on closing it became clear that the facts are secondary to the jury (and to us as a member of the jury tribe). What matters is feeling. Until we feel the case the facts are stale. Stale as in how a typical lawyer talks to the jury. When we talk like a lawyer we stress the facts in a sterile way.We relate to the jury like a lawyer machine. And the jurors not being lawyers turn off and go their own way. If it’s toward our side we are lucky. If it is toward the defense we bring this result on yourself by ignoring what matters, and what matters is feeling.

                Now how do we relate to the jury with feeling? Well we begin by discovering the story of our client. We do this by getting emotionally in touch with what are client has gone through and feel how what they have gone through feels to them.

                Once we accomplish this and accomplishing this takes immersion into our client’s life we arrive at the emotional level of the case. This allows us to feel with our client. When we feel with our client we can with emotional honesty convey this feeling to the jury. When we do this in our natural way without trying to sell the jury we give our case a chance.

                The feeling of our client which we mirror flows into the courtroom. The jury relates to this feeling because it is honest and true to life. The facts become subservient to the feeling of the case. Our client has this feeling, we have this feeling and this feeling is given to the jury. When the jury accepts this feeling as its own the facts become secondary to the common feeling of client, us and jury.



                  May 23rd, 2014

                  Clarence Darrow on “The Jury”


                  Every knowing lawyer seeks a jury of the same sort of people as their client; people who will be able to imagine themselves in the same situation and realize what verdict the client wants.

                  Choosing jurors is always a delicate task. The more a lawyer knows of life, human nature, psychology, and the reactions of the human emotions, the better equipped for the subtle selection of the so-called “twelve people, good and true.” In this undertaking, everything pertaining to the prospective juror needs to be questioned and weighed: this means all matters that combine to make the person; all of these qualities and experiences have left their effect on ideas, beliefs and fancies that inhabit the juror’s mind. Understanding of all this cannot be obtained too bluntly. It requires finesse, subtlety and guesswork.

                  A skillful lawyer does not hunt for learning or intelligence in the box; [the skillful trial lawyer] knows that all beings act from emotions and instincts, and that reason is not a motive factor. … The nature of the person is the element that determines the juror’s bias for or against our client. [The juror’s]… intellect can always furnish… good reasons for following their instincts and emotions. Many [seemingly] irrelevant issues… are not so silly as they seem.  There is no sure rule by which one can gauge any person.

                  It is not the law alone or the facts that determine the results. Always the element of luck and chance looms large. A jury of twelve is watching not only the evidence but the attitude of each lawyer, and the parties involved, in all their moves. Every step is fraught with doubt, if not mystery.

                  Often a casual remark may determine a vital situation. In all questions people are frequently influenced by some statement which, spoken at the eventful time, determines fate. In fact, all that occurs in life is an endless sequence of events resulting from the wildest chance.

                  Clarence Darrow, How to Pick A Jury (Esquire Magazine 1936)(edited/redacted by PAT). 







                    May 4th, 2014

                    The Personal Injury Associate-MIST Trial-Closing

                    John Henry suggests reading David Ball on Damages for closing argument considerations. Ball tells us closing is a time to enlist favorable jurors. This means closing is the time to give jurors on our side one line arguments for us and against defense. I use a combination of Ball, John Henry and my gut feeling.

                    Connect the Dots. Although Ball teaches do not rehash what the jurors have seen and heard during the trial, I begin by summarizing the evidence. In this way I put the pieces of the puzzle together for the jurors to make sure they get it. John Henry convinces me this makes sense because the other side will give their rehash version, so a brief connecting the dots shows our story is demonstrated through the evidence.

                    Jury Instructions. Next I cover the jury instructions. This means we discuss the instructions in a plain English common sense way. We show how the instructions guide us to the decision in our case.

                    Ball Method. I then use Ball’s method  word for word: “In a little while you will go into the jury room and you will have two jobs. One of your jobs is to answer the questions the judge has given you. Your other job is to explain to jurors why you feel the way you do about each question.”

                    “If someone says it is wrong to sue, tell them we sued because defendant rear ended Judy and this caused Judy injuries.”

                    “Tell them we are forced to come to court because defendant says Judy cannot have significant injuries because the bumpers do not show damage.”

                    “Remind them this case is about Judy Brown’s body not her car bumper.”

                    “If someone says defense doctor testified Judy was only injured for six to eight weeks, ask them how does this make sense when Judy’s treating doctor ordered physical therapy, referred Judy for surgery, and this treatment took over one year.”

                    If someone says Judy had preexisting neck and back problems, tell them her preexisting conditions make Judy more likely to be injured.” Remind them that the preexisting problems did not prevent Judy from doing her hobbies and physical activities before the collision.”

                    The Ask. John Henry and I consider trying Judy’s case on general damages alone as opposed to including the medical specials with the general damages. I decide to go the old fashioned way and  include the specials. The  specials are $35,000 and my generals are over $130,000.  (When specials are far less are than generals the low specials are an anchor that may bring down generals damages- thus the theory of trying the case only on general damages).

                    I decide to use the itemize the  damages approach. Thus, my proposed damage instruction (which the court uses) includes the specials. We create a power point using our damage instruction  and setting forth an amount next to each element of damage: For past medical expenses___, for past disability___,  for past loss of enjoyment,___, for past pain and suffering___. Next we show the time frame for future loss using the life expectancy instruction. As with the past elements, we itemize each damage element for the future. The end result is a total amount similar to the amount we said we are requesting in opening.

                    Rebuttal. There are schools of thought on rebuttal. Some maintain be brief on initial close and back load the guts of the close for the final say in rebuttal. We decide to front load the close as above and use a short statement for rebuttal. I prepare several possible short rebuttals and go with my gut when the time comes so my rebuttal is brief and fits the closing as it has evolved.