POLITICAL WISDOM FOR TRIAL LAWYERS

In 2002 political advisers James Carville and Paul Begala published a book they entitled “Buck up, Suck up… And Come Back When You Foul Up.” Although dated in terms of its publication, most of the observations they make that relate to communication and persuasion are as relevant today as they were when they wrote it. While the book is intended as advice for politics and politicians, the fundamentals they discuss apply directly to trial work. Here are a few of their observations:

  • The importance of determination and never quitting. Nobody thinks of himself or herself as a quitter. And yet, most people who fail, do so because they simply give in. They get tired, or they are worn down, or they lose whatever zeal that got them motivated in the 1st place. There’s a reason pit bulls are the best fighting dogs. They’re not the biggest or the strongest or the scariest. They’re the most tenacious. So be a pit bull, not a Chihuahua.
  • Avoid the mistake of being an intellectual instead of a communicator with a message. One of the biggest problems smart politicians and business leaders have is that they tend to suffer from what the Rev. Jesse Jackson calls “the paralysis of analysis.” There so smart they can always see the other side; they can always analyze potential pitfalls and problems. (Lawyers do the same by a failure to focus on only key issues & ignore all other distractions)
  • Focus on the big picture. Forget irrelevant details nobody cares about. The lion is fully capable of capturing, killing and eating a field mouse. But it turns out that the energy required to do so exceeds the caloric content of the mouse itself. So a lion that spread its day hunting and eating field mice would slowly starve to death.
  • Be open, honest and genuine. A lack of openness breeds mistrust.
  • A trial is a race for telling the truth. Inoculate the bad issues by being the first to disclose them. If there’s something bad to be said about you, say it yourself first.
  • All trials should be stories. Facts tell, but stories sell. That’s why, from the Greek myths to the griots of Africa the history of humanity has been told in stories. If you are not communicating in stories you’re not communicating. You may be, presenting a series of facts, many of them perhaps important, but the chances of your audience remembering or being moved to do what you want are nil. A good story has a sympathetic protagonist and unsympathetic antagonists, a hero and a villain. It has conflict, which creates drama, then resolution.
  • Be short and simple. Be brief. In the modern media age, brevity is more important than ever. Smart people think that sophistication and brevity are mutually exclusive. That’s one of the many reasons we hate smart people.
  • The message and how we deliver it is of critical importance. We hear with our ears, but we listen with our minds.
  • Always comply with the rule of three. Three  may not be company, but it is a sound bite. For many of the same reasons that the mind retains information presented in contrasting pairs, we also tend to remember information presented in groups of three. Two’s a pair and four is a list. If you’ve got ten, they’d better be Commandments or we ain’t going to remember them.
  • Always use drama. Surprise them. Memorable things (especially funny things) have an element of surprise; they’re not what we expect. For a variety of other reasons, it’s even better for that twist to be self-deprecating.
  • Keep it simple, smarty.
  • Self-deprecation works.
  • The human mind is incapable of making decisions without an element of emotion. Be emotional.
  • If you want them to remember it, make it unique. Offer a message that is unique.
  • Repetition is the fundamental requirement for communicating your message. Repeat your message relentlessly. If the mantra of success in real estate is location, location, location, the mantra of communication is repetition, repetition, repetition. You know why politicians repeat the same best basic message thousands of times? Because it works.
  • There are always more than one way of viewing something. Find out how to frame your case problems into the right theme, Turn weakness into strength. Most great politicians were able to turn their supposed weaknesses into strengths. Jefferson was such a poor speaker, and such a brilliant writer, that he refuse to stand and speak in defense of his draft of the Declaration of Independence, and his silence was more effective than any orators eloquence. Abraham Lincoln used his less than handsome appearance and is rough, back country upbringing to cultivate an image of simple decency and integrity.
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