May 10th, 2021

Learning from Simon Rifkind

Interview With Simon H. Rifkind (Litigation Journal Sept. 1984).

Q. Judge there  has been a great deal of criticism of the lack of ability of lawyers to try a case. Is this criticism valid?

A. Well, I have seen trials conducted with extraordinary skill, and great dramatic effect, in the best style that one could possibly imagine. I have also seen trials that were bumbling and poorly done. That’s always been true… . I’m not aware of any decline in the capacity of trial lawyers.

Q. What are the requirements of a successful trial lawyer?

A. It is essential a trial lawyer come into the courtroom knowing his case.

A, He must know the facts.

B, He must know what he is trying to establish.

C, must have a strategy and a program for achieving it.

To illustrate when I was a Federal District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York I would occasionally have a lawyer come up and say: “Does your Honor want an opening statement?”

To me this is a foolish inquiry. It is like the producer of a play opening the curtain and saying: “Members of the audience, would you like a prologue or would you rather do without one?”

Q. So what would you do to become a quality trial lawyer?

A. Now of course experience helps. A good apprenticeship is helpful. Emulating a master of the art is always a useful thing, but I have always said you have to be yourself. I can’t overstate the point that every trial is theatre, every trial lawyer is a performer, and he must have his style. He has to be himself, natural to himself, compatible with his spirit, with his physical well being, with his appearance, with his dictation, with his style.

Q. Do you try a case before a jury different than a bench trial.

A. I do not distinguish between a jury trial and a non jury trial. I regard a non-jury trial as a trial before a one person jury.

You have an audience, you are writing a play in competition with another playwright who is trying to write a different play. It takes a lot of skill and effort, but it is theatre, there is no question about it. Any significant trial is a contest, and every contest involves a sense of emotional tension.

The only difference between a bench trial and a jury trial is in a bench trial we have a very experienced theatre goer. Nonetheless, a theatre goer with emotion and a heart waiting to decide for the better play.

(Edited by PAT).

 

    November 30th, 2020

    Frontiers of Trauma-Crash Phases and Energy Exchange

    Here are preparation notes for cross examination of defense medical expert in a personal injury case:

    Trauma. In trauma start with the injured person’s story of the impact and the energy exchanged from the impact. To evaluate traumatic injury begin with an understanding of the person going through the crash phases.

    A traumatic event is divided into three phases: 1) Pre crash phase: 2) Crash phase; and 3) Post crash phase.

    Pre Crash Phase-Here we look to the person before the traumatic event. Acute or pre existing conditions are taken into account. A traumatic event is more injury producing to a person with pre existing conditions such as degenerative disk disease. As we age we degenerate and this includes progression into degenerative disk disease. Making the person less able to handle a traumatic event. Other pre crash considerations include the body position before trauma, expectancy  and gender.

    The Crash Phase. “The crash phase begins at the time of impact between one moving object and a second object. The second object can be moving or stationary and can either be an object or a person.” Kinematics of Trauma. In a motor vehicle collision three impacts occur: 1) The impact to the vehicles; here collision energy may be absorbed by the vehicles seen in vehicle damage. A heavy duty bumper allows the energy to continue with less dissipation into the people in the vehicle. 3) The third impact may be to the occupant’s internal organs striking the chest wall, abdominal wall  and skull. Id.

    The Post Crash Phase. This phase begins with the care of the injuries. The post crash continues for a lifetime in a permanent personal injury case.

    Energy Exchange. In a  traumatic injury case it is important to evaluate and understand the energy exchange, and the forces involved. Medical providers and juries relate to cases involving the exchange of significant energy or force. There is a common sense relationship between the exchange of significant force and injury. 

    The Law of Conservation of Energy and Newton’s Second Law of Motion. “The law of conservation of energy combined with Newton’s second law of motion describes that energy cannot be created or destroyed but can be changed in form.” Id. Applied to an automobile collision, the motion of the colliding vehicles is energy. When the vehicles collide their energy is dissipated by the bending of their bodies. Energy is then dissipated inside the vehicles as occupant bodies strike objects inside the vehicle. Energy dissipation continues inside the structures of the bodies of the occupants as their organs stop their forward motion against the chest wall, abdominal wall and skull. This translates to personal injury.

      October 30th, 2020

      Role Reversal

      Harper Lee in To Kill A Mockingbird says [“y]ou never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”  As a trial lawyer it is essential for me to understand this reality. One way to do this is role reversal.

       Client. I listen when relating to my client. After listening and understanding I role reverse.  I see myself in my client’s shoes. This means all aspects of my client as well as his injury. I become my client and internalize how I feel in his skin.

      Defense Lawyer. I also become the defense lawyer. This means having lots of cases as most insurance defense lawyers do. This means having to answer to home office. This means trying to win the case. What facts do I need to know? What facts are bad for me as the defense lawyer? What facts are good for me? How do I feel if  plaintiff is an honest likable person and his lawyer is likable?  How do I feel if  plaintiff and/or his lawyer are not likable?

      Witnesses. This means experts and lay witnesses. What is my motivation for being a defense expert or lay witness. Am I preventing frivolous lawsuits? Do I do this to make money or help a friend and this is what is most important? Do I do this because I like to work or want to get involved? These answers help better deal with the witness at the time of deposition and and  trial.

      The Judge.  I become the judge. As the judge I want to be seen as fair and impartial. I want to follow the law. I do not want to be reversed. In a close case I will go with the better lawyer. He will be my advocate if there is an appeal.

      Jurors.  I become the jurors. In jury selection I learn background facts of jurors that allow me to become the juror. What do I think of the case on first impression? What makes me want to root for plaintiff? What leads me to want to see plaintiff in a negative light

       Keep doing role reversal. I role reverse in my cases and in my personal life. Role reversal makes me a better lawyer and a better person.

        October 10th, 2020

        Facts with 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).

         Although facts are important what matters to the jury is feeling. We must feel the case so the facts are felt.  To relate to the jury with feeling we begin by discovering the story of our client. To do this we emotionally connect with what our client has gone through and how this feels. 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 draw on our emotional experience and connect with the feelings of our client. When we feel with our client we have emotional honesty and convey this feeling to the jury. Through emotional connection we do this naturally without trying to sell the jury.We connect with the jury in a straight forward common sense manner, avoiding legalese and complexity. 

        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 our feeling is given to the jury. When the jury accepts our feeling as its own the facts merge into our feeling.

          June 14th, 2020

          Write and Speak with Conviction

          Starting as a young lawyer and continuing  I consult Professors Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, for speaking and writing with power and conviction. Below are maxims from their book.

          Place Yourself in the Background. According to professors Strunk and White good writing (and speaking) comes naturally without trying to effect a certain mood or temper.  Write and speak so the recipient is drawn to what you are writing or talking about rather than your emotional take on the subject. In this way the recipient is drawn to the substance.   If the substance is there the recipient will have an emotional response. 

          Write and Speak Naturally.  Be yourself. Forget about imitating someone else.  Admittedly, we are all imitators and have been since babies.  The key is draw on our experiences rather than a copy of the source. This allows the message to be our message which is authentic.

          Never Overwrite or Overstate. Stick to the facts without gilding or adding. When we overstate the reader or listener knows. The message is processed in a negative way like this person is trying to sell me something.

          Write and Speak with Nouns and Verbs. Eliminate adjectives and adverbs. As stated by professors Strunk and White: “The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.” It is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing and speaking its toughness and color.

          Avoid the Use of Qualifiers. This means words such as rather, very, little, pretty, and probably to name a few. As stated by the professors: “These are the leeches that infest the pond of good prose, sucking the blood of words.” The use of the adjective “little” is particularly debilitating. “Little” is a badge of a weak speaker or writer.  The same is true with other qualifiers.

          Active Voice. Speak and write in the active voice whenever you have a choice. The active voice “I will speak and write with conviction” has power. The passive voice conveys weakness: “I will try to speak or write with conviction.”

          Write and Speak at High Level. When speaking use the ing.  Rather than “I’m thinken about doen it, ” say I am thinking about doing it.” This elevates you  to to a speaker with more education in the listener’s mind. The listener consciously and subconsciously hears your messgae as more educated. Eliminate slang in writing and speaking. This puts you at a higher level.

          Make the Point and Stop. As stated by our professors “do not explain too much.”  When saying too much adverbs and adjectives creep into speaking or writing. This makes the message weak rather than strong. Shakespeare says: ” The lady doth protest  too much me thinks.”

          Avoid Fancy Words. Speak and write like you are talking to a high school student. Avoid words of  trade that only fellow trade members know.  Avoid foreign language;  it sounds like you are trying to impress;  it is not impressive to deliver a message the recipient misses.

          Remember John Wayne’s Maxim:  “Speak slow, speak low, and don’t  say too much.”

            February 29th, 2020

            Great Cross Examination-Charles Laughton

             Cross examination is a challenging part of the trial.  It presents the opportunity to either turn an adverse witness into my witness or destroy the adverse witness. Either way my case benefits form successful cross examination.

            My preference is to turn the witness into my witness. On destroying the adverse witness I do this in a way the jury will accept. I never embarrass, badger, or abuse a witness.

            One of my favorite cross examination movie scenes is Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution.  As we see from viewing this short but sweet cross, Laughton is able to destroy a fact witness in a way acceptable to the jury. He uses the classic inability to perceive facts to destroy the witness.

            As we see in the clip Laughton begins by setting the foundation for inability to hear (and hearing a conversation is the basis for the adverse testimony). In setting the foundation Laughton begins by asking the witness in a booming voice if she recently applied for a hearing aid. In doing this Laughton uses change of voice (going into a less audible voice) to dramatically illustrate the witness’s hearing problem. When the prosecutor objects Laughton unfazed agrees to repeat the question.

            In a booming voice Laughton restates his question with the witness admitting she has yet to receive her hearing aide. Continuing in his booming voice Laughton verbally summarizes the witness’s testimony. In doing this he paints the scene within which the witness is supposed to have heard a conversation that could not be heard by a person with poor hearing. Then by again lowering his voice Laughton demonstrates the witness’s inability to hear as she again cannot hear Laughton’s lowered voice. The damage is done. The witness is destroyed without being embarrassed, badgered or abused.

              June 22nd, 2019

              Connection (Eye Contact)

              Eye contact leads to meaningful connection. Begin with an accepting and understanding heart,  making eye contact.  

              In a jury trial I start with eye contact before speaking. I stay with a juror  (three to five seconds) then go to the next juror who invites eye contact.

              When talking and listening I keep eye contact until completing a thought. I go to the next juror who invites connection; I engage with eye contact discussion. This allows me to connect. 

              Try making eye contact in all conversation group and individual. It shows the person you have connected with you care.

                May 10th, 2017

                Trial Lawyer Resilience and “Boys In The Boat”

                This is my take on how a trial lawyer is like a Pocock cedar racing shell. James Daniel Brown, In Boys In The Boat (Viking 2013), discusses George Pocock, a master shell builder in the 1920s and 30s. Brown writes about Pocock’s discovery of cedar as the ultimate wood for a racing shell; with the result being “the boat as a whole [is] under subtle but continual tension caused by the unreleased compression in the skin, something like a drawn bow waiting to be released.”

                “To Pocock, this unflagging resilience-this readiness to bounce back, to keep coming, to persist in the face of resistance was the magic in cedar.” This unseen force imparts life into the shell. “As far as Pocock is concerned a shell that does not have this “life” in it is unworthy. Id. at 139.

                This passage rings true of the worthiness of a trial lawyer. The trial lawyer is under a subtle but continual tension in trial-like a drawn bow. The trial lawyer must have unflagging resilience- a readiness to keep coming especially in the face of resistance. This is the unseen make up of a trial lawyer. With this make up the trial lawyer is worthy of the responsibility of representing an injured person against the resistance of the insurance industry.

                  March 22nd, 2015

                  The Turning Point

                  IMG_0497Constantine Stanislavski refers to “The Magic of If” in his 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). Putt ing our self in the “what if”  situation allows a natural emotional spontaneity to emerge.

                  A few years ago I read an 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 “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 the 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 a life with injury, and two a life 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 jurors a unique perspective and gives them the tool to fill the gap 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.