Category Archives: Learning

Always be open to learning something beneficial

I’ve been involved in the Wyoming Spence Trial College from the day it first began because I believe in Gerry’s concept about teaching lawyers how to be great trial lawyers. I read the publication Warrior each month looking for new ideas. This month the issue was devoted to criminal defense and capital defense work. I didn’t think there would be much in that issue that would benefit me in my civil damage work, but I was wrong.

One example was Daniel R. Williams, a New York Public Defender, who completed the program in 1994. He wrote a masterful article about the teaching at the college. He noted that first time attendees are often surprised by the emphasis on finding the real person beneath all the masks we put on in our lives. I thought he was on the target when he identified some of the things that keep lawyers from being themselves. These included, he said:  

  •  The Cult of Professionalism which he identified as the myth that acting "professional" means an artificial exterior and failure to be able to identify with your client or others
  • The failure to tune into the feeling of other persons A guarded personality, in the name of professionalism, means you never really are able to know the other person or even know yourself.
  • The failure to understand the intellect is only a small part of "knowing" There is a need to dig into yourself. Find out your feelings and to give voice to them. To understand the importance of feelings and thoughts

As to jury selection he notes that it is a process of developing relationships and seeing the jury as team members with you as the leader. That requires building trust. and he notes you can’t have trust unless you are genuine, authentic and transparent.

I particularly liked these thoughts:  "When you are in touch with your own individuality, you cannot help but tell the truth. And when you tell the truth, others reciprocate. Sharing and truth telling become the basis for developing a relationship of trust."

Dr. Xavier Amador, who teaches at Columbia University had an article about dealing with mentally ill clients. I was particularly impressed with his description of "The LEAP Approach: Listen, emphasize, agree. Partner. "Partnering" involves finding those things you can agree about and identifying them.

It involves delaying giving your opinion for as long as you can. That is great advice for lawyers who always want to interrupt the client and just tell them what to do. You delay giving your opinion or answer by showing respect for the question asked or issue raised by promising to answer it, but indicating you want  to listen more first. Example "I promise I will answer your question, but if it’s okay with you I want to listen to you some more first – okay?"

It also involves using the "A-Tools" – apologize – when you finally do give your opinion or answer:  "Before I tell you what I think about this, I want to apologize because  it might feel hurtful or disappointing."

Also acknowledge fallibility: "I could be wrong. I don’t know everything."

It uses agreement:  "I hope that we can just agree to disagree. I respect your point of view and I hope you can respect mine."

Anyway, those are some of the examples of things I learned that I thought were worth remembering and using in my own civil damage practice.