Last time I posted something from an article about the world of theater and trial lawyers. Today I’d like to share another part of the article relating to listening.
Actors must learn to respond to the other actor’s lines. That requires good eye contact, intense listening and good timing. It has been said that even when the actor doesn’t have a line and is not involved with a speaking part, they still must listen intently to what is going on and being said on the stage. Their failure to do so is a distraction as well as not staying in role. Good listening is an actor’s skill. It’s been pointed out that actor Judi Dench has exceptional stage presence because even when she is silent, she is so fully engaged in her character and listening to what the other actors are saying, that she is acting even when she is motionless.
The actor, Marlon Brando once said:
“an actor is a guy, who, if you aren’t talking about him, isn’t listening.” How about lawyers? What is the single most common discourteous characteristic of trial lawyers? That’s easy. They don’t listen. They don’t maintain eye contact with the person speaking and they don’t demonstrate that they are interested and paying attention to what is being said. Instead, they are thinking about what they are going to say next. Worse, they often interrupt or finish the other person’s sentence. Lawyers are too often “know it all’s” who don’t listen and want everyone to know how smart they are. In the process they lose good will and credibility.
Good listening is an essential part of being a good trial lawyer. Take jury selection. You should never break eye contact with a juror as long as they are speaking to you. Look at your notes or make notes only when they have finished talking. In direct or cross examination you should focus on the witness and listen intently to what is being said. Maintain eye contact and focus while witness is speaking unless you deliberately have some other motive in mind. Look at your next question or your notes only when they have finished. When they are through speaking, don’t just ask another question. Acknowledge that you heard them and understood what they communicated. Then you can move on.
If you want to make a good impression on the judge listen to them when they are speaking and never interrupt. On direct examination the same rule applies. Look at the witness. Maintain eye contact while they are speaking. Only when done look at your notes. Demonstrate to the jury by your own listening what the witness is saying is important. On cross examination, listening is just as essential for other reasons. Too often we miss a golden opportunity on cross because we really weren’t listening. Instead, we were looking at our notes or thinking of the next thing to ask. When we do that we miss openings that are gifts to us. We must be ready to deviate from our planned cross examination when listening carefully offers us the opportunity.
In the end, the same skills actors need in listening are required for trial lawyers. Both professions must develop listening skills if they want to be great.