It’s not what you think I said, it’s what I said

Whenever I talk about court-room lawyering I always emphasize that the person must first be themself and not try to become someone they aren’t.  Once you decide who you are, your “style,” and how you will present, then you can take the other tools of advocacy and adapt them to your personality and form of presentation.  Sure, you can be taught and learn about distracting mannerisms – the clicking pen, the walking back and forth, or about filler words, but you can’t change the essence of who you are when making a court-room presentation.  My theory is to embrace your own self and then adapt the tools.  So it was with interest I saw this item in the November issue of The Jury Expert.

Katherine James, Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Live Communication I Learned From Konstantin Stanislavski: Common Mistakes and Best Practices, 21(6) The Jury Expert, Nov. 2009.

The military has gone through its phase of employing actor/consultants to teach trial advocacy.  I’m not completely a fan of the method, but I can see there are valuable teaching points.  Here are some.

  • You need to strip away everything that is artificial and be "yourself".
  • Being fake can be lethal to communication.  The courtroom holds a huge amount of danger for those who are not "real".
  • In the theater, one of the first mistakes a young actor makes is to only memorize his/her lines and to just wait to say them when it is his/her "turn" to talk.  This is classic failure to view the case from the other sides perspectives to see what challenges they may have and how to beat or adapt to them.
  • “In the meeting room this live communication error can completely alienate and shut down the person with whom you need to communicate almost before you begin. I am in a meeting room with an attorney and a witness in a witness preparation session. The witness is barely concealing his anger. I know that because his lips are pressed together, he narrows his eyes, he thrusts his hand to me and says, "How are you?" Before I can say, "I would be happier if I was meeting you at a wedding!" the lawyer is already talking for me. "She’s fine – whatever – let’s get started," and is off and running with a list of rules about deposition.”   This is a classic of failing to listen to the client.  The typical scenario related to me by prospective clients is just this, but substitute “pretrial agreement” for “deposition.”

There are a number of interesting thoughts in the article making it well worth the read and adaptation to your practice.  Practice means just that.  Keep in mind always that it’s not what you say or how you say it, but what the listener heard you say and how you said it.