Archive | August, 2014

The Good Old Days: Lunch With an Opponent?

I recently handled two very acrimonious cases, one a family partnership dispute and the other a trust litigation among family heirs. In the partnership case, I came into the case shortly before trial, and inherited several years of heated litigation. I knew the opposing attorneys from several legal organizations I am a member of, but had no real relationship with them. In the trust case, I was dealing with an attorney I had never met before. I telephoned both counsel. My request was the same to both, “I’m inviting you to lunch, my treat. I would like to sit down with you and get to know you. We are going to be in this case a while. Maybe there are things we can agree on that can help both sides going forward.” Both attorneys accepted my invitation.

business lunch

Continue Reading →

Steve Young’s Brain Injury Interview Checklist

How Are Victims of Brain Injury like HAL the Computer?

In “2001 A Space Odyssey,” a computer named HAL runs amok during a flight to Jupiter. HAL was the tender voiced computer that interacted with the astronauts as if he were a crew member. But HAL had a problem. He did not recognize he was malfunctioning (if you’ve seen the movie, you know why I would personify him) and took every step to prevent correction because he “was just fine.” HAL wasn’t fine regardless of what he thought.

Clients with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), despite their assurances to the contrary, are not fine either. Throughout the case your client with TBI will deny an impairment, even when confronted with medical confirmation of impairment. That is the nature of the injury. For this reason, you must explore with the client, in detail, his background or symptoms that may warrant deeper investigation.

Continue Reading →

In Trial, a Picture is Worth a Million Dollars

DEATH BY POWERPOINT.

Death by PowerPoint is an oft heard complaint against the imprudent practice of putting slides on the screen and reading them to the jury. I reject that use of PowerPoint and I have the Million Dollar verdicts to support my opinion.

I have suffered through attorneys who take their whole close and import it wholesale into PowerPoint, then read the slides to the jury. We know how boring it is to have someone read a talk to us – imagine having someone read a talk that you are able to read faster because it is projected in a screen in front of you.

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION? Continue Reading →

Robin Williams: In the Moment, In the Trial

Robin Williams was an important part of my law school experience. In 1978, I was a second year law student, supporting a wife and our eight-month-old son while attending school full time. My schedule was crowded. In the morning I went to classes. When classes were finished, I drove to a law office where I worked every day until 7:00 p.m. I’d return home, eat dinner with my wife and son, then go to the library to study until 11:00 p.m.

Tuesday nights were different. After Tuesday dinner I engaged in a luxury to preserve my sanity: I watched the insanity of Robin Williams on Mork and Mindy.

Mork and Mindy was not an original concept. During the 60s “My Favorite Martian” staring Bill Bixby and Ray Walston portrayed a Martian visiting earth known only to the good-hearted earthling who allowed the Martian to live with him. By all counts, Mork and Mindy had no chance as a repackaging of My Favorite Martian. But Robin Williams took the storyline of a visitor from outer space with a secret identity to a whole new level. He arrived in an egg-shaped spacecraft, when he sees eggs on Mindy’s counter he thinks, visitors from space, and lofts an egg into the air saying, “Be free and fly.” Gravity being what it is the result was obvious and my laughter at the absurdity was joyous.

Robin Williams’ Gift

Robin Williams’ gift was the ability to take a character, analyze it, incorporated into himself, and then stretch to exaggeration either in drama as in “The Fisher King,” or comedy with “Mrs. Doubtfire.” That is his genius.

Williams was high-energy, high intellect, high output, high influence.

In the Moment During Trial

This constellation of characteristics that drew people to Williams is the same set of characteristics that can serve one very well in trial. It is by establishing an empathetic connection with a jury that we are able to draw them to ourselves, engage them in our story, and have them help bring justice in the courtroom. Continue Reading →

Fishing for Tuna in a Lake: Persuasion in Trial

A friend asked me, “What is your stock in trade?”

I answered, “Persuasion. Trial lawyers are merchants of persuasion.”  My answer caused me to ponder a great deal on trial lawyers as “merchants of persuasion.”

trust me

Try defining “persuasion” without using the words “persuade” or “convince?”

My Definition of “Persuasion”

I define “persuasion” as  “influencing perception.” The old saw from politics, “perception is reality” applies with a double portion in trial.  The way jurors perceive you or your case, is their reality. Continue Reading →

Internal Conflict: Obstacles Are Opportunities

Jesse Wilson, a reader from Colorado (jessekwilson@gmail.com) uses theater to “transform lives and business.” My recent post on “Story” prompted him to email me about conflict in story.

Continue Reading →

Stories: Campfires and Courtrooms

From man’s earliest times, telling stories has been how we entertained each other late at night around the fire, communicated the joy of the hunt, and shared the pain of loss. As trial attorneys, we are the inheritors of the tradition of story.

campfire

Rather than sitting around a campfire, weaving tales late into the night to enthrall our friends, we now stand in the killing pit we call a courtroom and talk to twelve silent, supposedly non-responsive members of the public who are there to do their civic duty.

I fear that by and large, we as lawyers do not value the persuasive power of story. I have seen lawyers in trial say,

“This case concerns a two-car motor vehicle accident that occurred on December 13, 2000, at the corner of Bristol Drive and Anton Parkway in Costa Mesa, California. The Plaintiff was the sole occupant of her vehicle that was at rest awaiting a red light at said intersection. Defendant’s vehicle failed to stop and struck Plaintiff’s vehicle from the rear.”

Can you hear the snores? Imagine how much worse it would be if that attorney was giving the opening statement in a partnership dissolution case, or an easement dispute, or a trust litigation.

Attorneys’ stock in trade is story. If that is our tool, shouldn’t we know what a story is? Shouldn’t we know how to create a story? Aren’t we like the director of a movie painting word pictures with scenery, characters, conflict, drama, and resolution? Until we think of ourselves like that, we will never fully understand how to present compelling trials for our clients. Continue Reading →