The book, the houstons and being a great trial lawyer

I just finished a book I thoroughly enjoyed, The Houstons The life and times of a Hollywood dynasty by Lawrence Grobel. I thought several passages contained good advice for trial lawyers about communication, particularly pauses and timing. Joshua Karton is one of the best teachers about communications I have known and this advice is consistent with Josh’s teaching. All trial lawyers have to be actors. By that I don’t mean pretending to be or think something as a hypocrite, but rather in the sense that great actors must completely understand and absorb the character they are playing. They become the character in the same way great lawyers must totally understand their client and the case so they can tell the story as if it were their own. There is so much to be learned from the lessons of acting. Here are a few thoughts from the book I thought I’d pass it on for your consideration.Walter, John Houston’s father, always gave George M Cohan credit for learning a sense of timing and the importance of pausing for effect. Walter said Cohan had cut a scene, but then told the actors to take the same amount of time thinking through the scene instead of saying the words. He wanted them to pause and not rush from speech to speech but to convey real life by holding on to silence. Walter said: “That was one of the best acting lessons I ever learned, the value of long pauses for certain effects.” Timing is the key to everything in communications. It makes the difference between a great communicator and a poor or average one. It requires discipline and it requires focus, but it is essential for great lawyers.Director John Logan credited John’s father, Walter, for teaching him an important thing about directing. It dealt with pausing. To demonstrate water Walter used to examples from Shakespeare’s Hamlet’s: “To be or not to be” and the best: “Tomorrow and tomorrow.” He said: “If you pause there after ” to be” the audience has no idea what you’re pausing for. “to be or not to be” means you’re thinking about something. But, if you pause after “to be or not to be, that is the question” you can pause for ever and the audience won’t care because they know what you’re thinking and they are thinking too. Never pause until you come to a full stop, full thought.”  We must learn the great importance of pausing. Great communicators are masters at using a pause for emphasis, emotion or calling attention to something.The book quotes actor Mary Astor as saying that Bogart had: “precision timing. He kept other actors on their toes because he listened to them, he watched them, he looked at them.” That is what we must do when we listen to clients, jurors or others.

About Paul Luvera

Plaintiff trial lawyer for 50 years. Past President of the Inner Circle of Advocates & Washington State Trial Lawyers Association. Member American Board of Trial Advocates, American College of Trial Lawyers, International Academy, International Society of Barristers, member of the National Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame & speaker at Spence Trial College
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