May 20th, 2013

Learning from Clarence Darrow (Part Two)

Continuing to discuss highlights of John A. Farrell, Clarence Darrow Attorney for the Damned (First Vintage Books Edition, May 2012):

Philosophy. The only thing worthwhile is to develop your own individuality and leave something that will liberalize the few who know and care you lived. Id. at 194. “No man is judged rightly by his fellow men. We go here and there, and we think we control our destinies and our lives, but above us and beyond us are unseen hands and unseen forces that move us at their will.” Id. at 263.

The War of Trial.  Darrow uses the analogy of war when referring to trial: I try cases in the front trenches, fearing nothing. “The front trenches are disagreeable; they are hard; they are dangerous; it is only a question of days or hours when you are killed or wounded… . But it is exciting. You are living; and if now and then you go back to rest, you think of your comrades in the fight; you hear the drum; you hear the cannon’s voice; you hear the bugle call; and you rush back to trial and to the thick of the fight. There, for a short time, you really live. It is hard, but it is life.” Id. at 326.

Likability- The Most Important Element in a Case. Darrow believes the outcome of trial rests on the elemental factor of likability. When the opposition lawyer is trying to bully the witness Darrow lets him continue, trusting he will antagonize the jury. It is only when he knows the jury is upset that he responds and puts the lawyer in his place. See id. at 346.

Voir Dire.  Wearing his familiar gray suit, Darrow slouched with his hands in his pockets or slowly roamed the courtroom speaking in a low voice to the jurors. The court and the jurors are all with him and the jurors are eager. “He ever so often makes some droll remark that sets the entire courtroom to laughing and instantly all tension is relived.”  But like all lawyers he makes mistakes: “He pushed too far  with one prospective juror [and asked a needles question that lead to the prosecutor excusing a good juror]. You have to know when to stop,” Darrow told friends that night. “One question too many and you lose a desirable juror, I should have know enough to refrain.” Id. at 409.

Style. Darrow uses simple words when talking to the jury and from time to time he makes meaningful eye contact with a juror. Throughout the trial he includes all of the jurors through meaningful eye contact. He has a natural demeanor as if the jury is a tribe and he is a tribal member. See id. at 254.”Everything is natural, unaffected and perfectly timed.” Id. at 435.

Tactics. Darrow once explained his tactics in a criminal case: “You try to throw around the case a feeling of pity, of love, if possible, for the fellow who is on trial. If the jurors can be made to identify with the defendant and his pain and position they will act to satisfy themselves. At this ponit the case is won. Juries will furnish their own rationalization. If a juror wants to do something , and is intelligent, he will give a reason for it. You’ve got to get him to want to do it. That is how the mind acts.” Id. at 287.

    April 29th, 2013

    Learning from Clarence Darrow (Part One)

    John Farrell’s biography of Clarence Darrow is an engrossing read for trial lawyers as we can learn from Clarence Darrow-the greatest trial lawyer of the early twentieth century:

    What Darrow learned from his father. My father “taught me to question rather than accept. I had little respect for the opinion of the crowd. My instinct was to doubt the majority. John A. Farrell, Clarence Darrow Attorney for The Damned, (First Vintage Books Edition, May 2012) at 25. 

    Voir Dire. “Darrow, dressed in homely clothes, with baggy trousers and unshined shoes,” strolled around the courtroom or draped himself over the back of a chair, or leaned into the box to question a juror. He had a soft drawl and a relaxed approach and engaged in a confidential exchange with jurors. “There was method in Darrow’s manner; he believed that a juror’s decision was inevitably based on emotion, not intellect. The more he could in quiet conversation weigh a man’s heart the better.” Id. 164.

    Demeanor. The press reported Darrow to be a man of intellect and subtlety with an old shoe manner, and a capacity for getting inside the skin of a witness that is possessed by few lawyers. There is nothing theatric about him. He never strikes an attitude. He never explodes. He stands before a witness and just bores into his mind, gently, shrewdly with every appearance of wanting merely to know the truth and nothing more. Id. at 165-66.

    Opening. Darrow “approached the jury and, with no flourishes or preliminaries, began to speak in his slow mellow drawl. At times he would lean forward, until their noses touched. Sometimes he’d pause to consider, and wipe his glasses. He spoke in the straight simple language of the hills and mines. One reporter said. He gave them a talk much in the same manner that the good old deacon in the little Methodist church you used to attend led the class meeting.” Id. at 172

    Cross Examination. “Darrow believed that important witnesses in major cases were so well rehearsed that as a rule it is futile to go over in cross-examination the testimony already given.” Id. at 169. In the Loeb and Leopold case Darrow for the most part “decried the spectacle [of the state’s presentation of an army of minor witnesses and] declined to cross examine,” but he chose to grill a police detective who stated “Leopold’s boast about a friendly trial judge.”

    “Darrow rose, swung his chair around and leaned upon it. He pressed the detective for witnesses, notes, or other supporting evidence. … When the copper hedged he pounced.

    “Who was with you?”

    “Nobody but he and I,” the detective acknowledged.

    “Did you make any memoranda on it?”

    “Not at the time…”

    “Mr. officer, don’t you know that this story of yours in reference to a ‘friendly judge’ is pure fabrication made for the purpose of intimidating the court?” Id. at 343.

    (The Loeb and Leopold case was a thrill killing case where Darrow plead Loeb and Leopold guilty in a bench trial where the only issue was whether Loeb and Leopold would be hung or receive life in prison. Judge Caverly sentenced the young men to life in prison).

     

      March 17th, 2013

      The Yin and Yang of Personal Injury Practice

      According to T’ai Chi theory, human ability is capable of being developed beyond its commonly believed potential. We are capable of the highest level of achievement. There are no boundaries when we place no restrictions or barriers on our capabilities. “One reaches the ultimate level, or develops in that direction, by means of the ladder of balanced powers and their natural motions-Yin, the negative power (yielding), and Yang, the positive power (action).” Waysun Liao, The Essence of T’ai Chi, (Shambhala 2007) at 6. These two equal powers oppose and complement each other. This natural law is usually ignored, especially by trial lawyers who see only charging Yang and distain the yielding Yin.

      But all cases cannot be tried, and some cases should not be tried. Likewise, to be a viable personal injury lawyer all cases cannot be settled and some cases should not be settled. The key is to have balance. Balance in knowing when to try a case and knowing when to settle a case.

      On reflecting on the Yin and Yang, and balance within a personal injury practice, I believe as a general rule the Yang must be in the forefront when we begin a case. This is because we cannot settle a case for fair value unless the insurance company knows we can and will try the case. Thus, we never take a case we cannot try. When we begin this way a Yang aura permeates the case- the insurance company takes us seriously. The Yin aura is appropriate after we are taken seriously by the insurance company. This is when fair value will be paid. The Yin-settlement- must be appreciated: the client receives fair value; the client receives a certain result; and, the client is free from the battle of  trial.

      “The Chinese have long realized that the two T’ai Chi elemental powers must interact, and the harmonious result …[brings] progress and unlimited development.” Id. at 8. When we practice personal injury law following the two T’Chi elemental powers of Yin and Yang we concentrate on balance. Balance is to the benefit of our client and our law practice.

        September 23rd, 2012

        Losing Breeds Success

        Just lost a “MIST” case. For those who do not know a “MIST” case is what we call an automobile collision case with little or no visible damage to the colliding cars and injuries to plaintiff that cannot be seen. Examples include injuries to soft tissue- thus, Minimum Impact Soft Tissue=”MIST.”

        At trial I used techniques learned at Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyer’s College (TLC). The techniques are  simple. First, know ourself and how we feel about our case. Second, tell the truth to the jury including concerns we have about the case. Third, relate to the jury in a non lawyer natural common sense way. Fourth, show and tell the story. At all times include the jury.

        Losing is hard. Losing leads to doubt. Doubt about taking a case to trial. Doubt about being a trial lawyer. Doubt about trial tactics.

        On reflection I believe losing is an inevitable result when we try tough cases. There are “MIST” cases I have been successful prosecuting. On reflection I see that it is important to try tough cases. On reflection I have no doubt about the TLC Method.

        Trying tough cases gives a legitimately injured plaintiff a shot at justice when the insurance company says pound sand and take little or nothing for your injuries. The only way to succeed in a tough case with little or no offer is to try the case.  By taking on the insurance company in a “MIST” case we stand up for an injured person who deserves fair compensation. This is our charge as a trial lawyer.

        Losing is an essential part of the success equation. All successful people have been losers. For me I learn far more from my losses than from my successes. A Loss causes reflection. Reflection leads to retooling techniques. Retooling makes me better. Plus, insurance companies know the only lawyer who can win a case is the lawyer who will try the case. Insurance companies know we will lose sometimes and so will they. When an insurance company deals with a lawyer who will try the case it treats the case more seriously which translates to paying fair value more often in cases where the injured plaintiff is represented by a known trial lawyer.

        So I move on to the next trial.  I have learned from my loss. I look forward to trying my next case using the TLC Method- total honesty in a pure and simple way like a regular guy rather than a trial lawyer with a trial lawyer mask.

          August 15th, 2012

          Trial Lawyers College-My Take

          This post gives my take on Trial Lawyers College  (TLC) where I attended and graduated in the class of July 2012:

          Wyoming. TLC is on Gerry Spence’s Ranch in Western Wyoming. Most students fly into Jackson Hole, and take a TLC charter from Jackson to the Ranch. This means seeing the beauty of Western Wyoming on the way to the Ranch. The Tetons are the highlight of the ride, but all of the country from Jackson to the Ranch is beautiful.

          The Ranch. The Ranch is located two and a half hours east of Jackson. The closest town is Debois which is a cool cowboy town 40 minutes west of the Ranch. The accommodations at the Ranch are spartan, clean and fine. The Ranch facilities are well maintained ranch buildings. The food (buffet style) is great given the chefs cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for about 75 people. There are abundant morning opportunities for working out-climbing Spence Mountain a four mile hike from 7000 to 7900 feet,  jogging/walking a country road,  fly fishing (I caught 10 fish-catch and release), and working out in the Ranch weight room. The Wind River, which runs through the Ranch, gives a pastoral setting and  good vibes that make the Ranch a magical place.

          Classmates. Although The Ranch is a cool place what makes TLC a great experience is the people. In my class we had 54  male and female lawyers of all ages and ethnic groups, from all over the United States with half being criminal defense lawyers and half being plaintiff injury lawyers. We promptly formed a close bound with 25% of the class as we were divided into four equal groups for the first three days. These are the psychodrama days where we learn who we are and who are peers are. We learn to take off our mask and be our real self. We then integrate back into the collective group. For work sessions we are divided into smaller groups. In this way we get to know all of our classmates in our three weeks together.

          Instructors. The instructors are TLC graduates. They are quality trial lawyers from around the United States who take a week off to come to TLC to teach the TLC Method. Work sessions are not lecture like a typical law school or continuing  legal education class. Rather, work sessions are about doing. We learn from doing and showing. Typically an instructor asks our fellow classmates who act as jurors during a work session: “Is he like a lawyer or a real person.” If the answer is lawyer we are not in the TLC Method.

          TLC Method. We learn to try cases using the TLC Method. First, we must be ourself. We must take off our mask and face the jury with honesty and without any pretense or legalese. We become one with the jury. Second, we show the jury our client’s story rather than tell the jury about our case. Third, we role reverse with the opposition witness allowing us to see the world as he sees the world. This allows for a sensitive humanistic cross examination instead of an aggressive lawyer like cross. It is the exception to the rule to destroy the witness. Finally, we close the case as we have started the case-we highlight the theme and the story, show the jury what justice means and give the case to our jury.

            August 6th, 2012

            Back from Trial Lawyers College

            With no wasted time we chomp at the bit.

            We learn the mask we wear does not fit.

            Soon becomes apparent this is about who we are.

            To find ourselves we need not go far.

            We need only to go within.

            To discover our story we go back to then.

            There is fear and we know it will not be fun.

            But we trust the method and do not run.

            For the method teaches to accept the past.

            We form a bond that will last.

            A bond from taking off the mask.

            And after this is done we have a blast.

              July 12th, 2012

              Trial Lawyers College

              I am going to Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College from July 13, 2012 to August 6, 2012. Two former graduates Bob Dawson and Mark Wagner convinced me to apply. Both say graduates learn the Gerry Spence Method of trying a case. Both say it can and likely will be a life changing experience. From what I understand we will:

              Discover Who We Are. Before we can try a case at the highest level we must know who we are. This means becoming honest with ourselves.  We cannot expect a jury to trust us unless we communicate from our heart with honesty and without pretense.  According to Gerry Spence we cannot do this until we know who we are.

              Self Action. According to Carl Rodgers, On Becoming a Person (1961)(Required reading for Trial Lawyer’s College), until we discover who we are we tend to ask “[w]hat do others think I should do in this situation?” Id. The Spence Method assists in allowing the lawyer to recognize who he/she is, and then act in a realistic way according to the person’s feeling on what needs to be done. We learn to act as our  self instead of  acting based on society’s expectations.

              Discover the StoryKnowing and trusting from one’s heart what needs to be done must be matched with knowing and understanding what our client has gone through and is going through in dealing with her injury. This is done by discovering our client’s story. Under the Spence Method we learn how this is done. Discovering the story allows us to bring the story to the jury in a way that relives the client’s emotions.

              Show Me. All trial lawyers should follow the Missouri model of “show me.” We typically try our case by telling rather than showing. Telling is pedantic and boring. Telling is a turn off to the jury. Showing is bringing the case to life. Showing is living the case in the present tense emotions that are the case. Showing brings the case to life and the jury relates. The Spence Method teaches how to show rather than tell.

              No Internet.  There is no internet at Trial Lawyers College. There will be no Blog posts. Will return August 6th and post about the Trial Lawyers College experience.


               

                June 27th, 2012

                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, he should 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).

                 

                  May 31st, 2012

                  Tort Law

                   Tort law is the body of  law concerned with civil harm of one against another. The law of torts includes three categories of civil wrongs: intentional torts where the actor intends to commit the harm, negligence where the actor commits a wrong by acting in an unreasonable way, and product liability where a manufacturer places an unsafe product into the market place. All torts have the common thread of causing injury. Lawyers are generally concerned with torts of negligence and product liability. This is because there is usually insurance coverage for negligent and product liability wrongs. Not so with intentional torts.

                  Civilized Freedom. In a civilized free society we should be able to do what we desire. We should be able to act freely. But civilized society involves others as well as the actor. In a civilized society the actor is limited in his actions when his actions harm another. Here freedom for one is harm to another and this is not tolerated in a civilized society. Thus, in a civilized society we are free to act up to the point our action harms another.  This is where tort law comes into play.

                  Tort Remedy. In tort the the remedy for causing harm to another is money compensation to the harmed person from the person causing the harm. The concept is the person harmed should be placed in the position he was before the harm. When the harm involves a personal injury this means the wrong doer pays the amount of money a jury determines fairly compensates the innocent harmed person.

                  Dual Purpose. Tort law protects society’s interests in freedom from harm, with the goal of restoring the person harmed to the position he or she was in prior to the defendant’s harmful conduct. Tort law focuses on protecting people and property by imposing a duty of reasonable care on others. An underlying purpose of tort law is to provide for public safety through deterrence of negligent acts. The concept has a dual purpose. First, provide fair compensation to the harmed person from the person who causes the harm. Second, provide for public safety by way of the deterrent effect of the connection between causing harm to another and having to pay for the harm.

                  Misconception. A misconception on tort law has emerged by way of the frivolous lawsuit myth. Pushed by insurance companies the myth is there is something wrong with seeking money compensation for harm caused by the wrongful act of another. Our nation has believed and fostered tort law from the beginning. Our constitution grants the right of jury trial with the idea that fellow citizens will hear the case and provide fairness. If the harm is real and the act causing the harm is a tort then there is nothing frivolous in seeking fair compensation. It is the civilized and proper thing to do. Our society is safer for all of us when fair compensation is properly provided in a tort lawsuit.

                    May 24th, 2012

                    First Impression

                    In What the Dog Saw Malcolm Gladwell discusses first impressions. Mr. Gladwell says we form our first impression within seconds (two seconds to be exact). He points out studies show not much difference between a first impression based on seconds and an impression based on prolonged exposure.

                    On reflection this makes sense in our age of sound bites and rapid fire media coverage. This also makes sense when we look at ourselves from an evolutionary standpoint. Our prehistoric ancestors had to immediately react on first impression to survive.

                    Applying the reality of first impression to a jury trial means our jurors form an impression of us before we open our mouths. According to Mr. Gladwell people like and trust people who appear confident and smile. To fail to make immediate eye contact and smile when jurors enter the courtroom is to miss the first first impression opportunity.

                    Jury consultants David Ball and Harry Plotkin teach the importance of jury selection and opening statement in establishing the case in the minds of the jurors. Jury selection is the first time we have a dialog with our jurors. The great Clarence Darrow is reported to have whispered to his second chair after jury selection “the trial is over.” He was correct.

                    Opening statement is the first time we introduce the case to our jurors. Both Mr. Ball and Mr. Plotkin teach to begin dispassionately with the conduct of defendant. Then introduce plaintiff in a factual way without trying to sell the case. The aura is that of an accurate historian where the facts call for justice in favor of injured plaintiff. This leaves a first impression of objectivity. When we do this with a pleasant demeanor coupled and an aura of acceptance we make a favorable first impression.