DON’T BE LIKE THE SIX MEN OF INDOSTAN

John Godfrey Saxes  poem about an Indian legend had these lines:

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

What does  this have to do with plaintiff trial lawyers? Well, one lesson for us is to avoid the common mistake of evaluating our cases, at  intake or at mediation or in trial in the same way the men of Indostan reached their conclusions about the elephant. Instead of taking a full and complete perspective of the entire case, we are distracted by a few factors that color our view of our cases. We look at selected facts as a  legal scholar and not  as a juror who sees all the facts. We fail to take into consideration factors beyond legal considerations such as commonly held value beliefs that will always  prevail over legal rules.  Looking at the case through a legal microscope and not as  a big picture is the frequent explanation for why we lose cases where the law and even the facts seemed to be on our  side. That’s also the most common explanation as to why we  won cases we thought we would lose.

Avoid becoming fixated on any one or few facts or issues, good or bad, in our cases. Instead, ask non lawyers for their overall reaction.  Run focus studies on the big picture reactions. Try re-framing issues in favorable ways and re-evaluate from a broad perspective. Most important, avoid the fatal sin in trial of losing sight of the big picture message by chasing  distracting defense issues that defendant pops up like rabbits coming out of holes  in the ground. Have the discipline to resist the temptation. Think of  Odysseus who put wax in his  crews ears and tied himself to the mast to avoid the power of the Sirens whose singing  was  so beautiful it drove men mad. Stay on message from jury selection through argument and make the message a broad overall one that is consistent with the common values of the jurors.

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