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).

 

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