Trial lessons from clarence darrow

Trial lessons from clarence darrow

I read an interesting article: Who is the Lawyer of the Century by Gerald F. Uelmen, Professor of Law, Santa Clara Univesity The author discusses a number of lawyers who might qualify including Gerry Spence. When Spence was asked who he would select, the author says:  

 "While Spence does not believe in reincarnation,he certainly believes in heroes, and Darrow is his rolemodel. He points to Darrow’s passion for justice for the underdog and championing the causes of the common people as virtues for today’s lawyers to emulate. He dismisses the claim that Darrow bribed jurors as unfair, since Darrow can no longer defend himself, and was acquitted when he could. He also suggests that even if Darrow was guilty, his conduct must be viewed in the context of the class warfare that prevailed at the time, in which the crimes of the ruling class far outweighed anything Darrow might have done"

However, what was of particular interest to me was an appendix article by Professor Quentin "Bud" Orgren. He describes listening to Darrow making an appeal to the Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute the death sentence of a young man he had defended and who had been scheduled to die at the Joliet penitentiary after all appeals had failed. Here’s a description from the article about how Darrow went about making his plea:

"It was Darrow’s turn, and he began by asking permission to address the board sitting down, which was readily granted. In no time the contrast in style was absolute. No flamboyance here, just man-to-man, come-let-us reason-together conversation, delivered in such a soft voice that some had to lean close to hear. Nothing sensational,nothing even novel, either. Merely a suggestion that they put themselves in the shoes of the young lad, penniless, his mother dead, his father long without work, living in a shanty out at the edge of town, utterly without hope of earning a few dimes so he could take his girl out for a good time, never in trouble before, like the street-car conductor a victim of evil social forces and frustrations that deny life and breed crime and death. The boy hadn’t intended to fire the gun, but the conductor, surprised, reacted in a nervous, menacing way; the boy panicked, and the gun went off.

Darrow took no more then thirty minutes for this presentation. He described the events as if standing in the shoes of the young man and as if it were happening now. That is a description of what trial lawyers are supposed to do in 2010 when talking to a jury. Low keyed, nothing sensational and a "come-let-us-reason-together conversation. Also of importance is the psycho drama approach of putting himself in the shoes of his client and seeing the events as if they were happening to him a well as seeing the situation  through the eyes of the members of the Board. This is a description of great advocacy we all can learn from.

By the way, the death sentence was commuted.

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