The Sunday New York Times had an article by Stephanie Rosenbloom titled “Authentic? Get Real.” In it she discusses the recent interest in “being authentic.” She quotes presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann as saying “I think what people see in me is that I’m a real person. I’m authentic.” She says Anderson Cooper in discussing his new television program said “I’ve always tried to just be authentic and real.” She notes that marketers and social networking coaches are preaching that to be successful you must be authentic. Authenticity seems to be the goal of politicians, celebrities, and television stars like Katie Couric: “I think I have to be my authentic self.” She notes that experts say the best way to sell yourself is to not appear to be selling yourself. George Lakoff the well-known professor of linguistics at Berkeley says that in politics it has become one of the major things political strategists care about. Experts say that even though people didn’t agree with Ronald Regan they voted for him anyway because he seemed authentic. As Lakoff says: “he appeared to believe what he was saying.”
The article reminded me of the well-known quote “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.” That’s what it sounds like me. Pretend to be authentic is the message I hear. I don’t know about television or politics, but I can assure you jurors have an amazing ability to recognize a phony and when you have twelve of them studying you it happens quickly. If you are merely pretending to be an authentic person you won’t last long at all in front of a jury. They will recognize what you are doing almost immediately.
At the Spence Trial Lawyer’s College, one of the primary goals is to teach lawyers to strip away the masks, to stop acting like a lawyer and to become the real person they are underneath all the protective devices. Learning how to forget what you were wrongly taught in law school about being a lawyer and abandoning the effort to imitate someone else is essential to becoming a great trial lawyer. Being really “authentic” is not some learned skill political coaches teach. It is just the opposite. It is dropping all the walls we have created to protect discovery of our true self out of fear and revealing ourselves to others as who we really are. That’s a genuine human being and people respond to honesty. Telling the truth and being who we really are make up the two most powerful methods of persuasion trial lawyers have to offer. Try it. You’ll like it.