A few times in my high school trigonometry class, I would sit down with my teacher during her office hours to assure that I was understanding one or the other challenging concept. Our meetings were short, because she would distill our discussions to such simplicity with just a few strokes of her pen, as if we were discussing something as simple as mere addition and subtraction concepts.
Five years later, I worked for a year between college and law school as a financial auditor with one of Manhattan’s largest commercial banks, involving detail, detail, more detail, and analysis. In law school, we dealt with rules, discovering rules, competing rules, applications of rules, exceptions to rules, differences among appellate courts and appellate judges, and often lengthy opinions. Data, data and more data. I had to avoid getting bogged down by all this data, and to rise above it.
Even the most complex and data-filled challenges must start with simplicity. Like my trigonometry teacher, my amazing teacher SunWolf also personifies starting from simplicity in challenging complex criminal defense. She has spoken with me about a few of my more challenging then-upcoming felony jury trials, and within minutes has offered her thoughts on appealing to jurors’ basic views, thought processes, and instincts. Even when I have had well over one thousand pages of printed discovery and hours of taped discovery, SunWolf, without having more than my general relevant summary of the case, has offered great pearls for persuading the jury, often adding: "Isn’t that simple?" SunWolf comes across as a magical and enchanted being, and her writings and devotion to storytelling underline her devotion to magic, reality being no obstacle to victory, and enchantment. With enchantment, SunWolf has co-authored an article entitled "Towards the re-enchantment of psychotherapy: The container model of storytelling in treatment."
On storytelling, as I previously wrote, good storytelling gives direction to one’s oral presentation, rather than having the speaker wander around in wilderness and fog. It reminds me of the ah-ha I experienced one day over thirty years ago playing improvisational trumpet with a music group. Instead of my focusing merely on sounds and the meaning of the words to the songs, with the trumpet I took my listeners on a storytelling journey, with the trumpet conveying some of the sounds I heard and feelings I felt and sights I saw during that journey — while conversing back and forth and in tandem through my trumpet along with the other musicians and singers — the first such journey being like a huge bird in a jungle with rushing skyscraper-height waterfalls, the wind rushing all over the lush greenery, and birds singing all along. Insodoing, each note more smoothly flowed into the next note, taking me away from focusing so hard on making up music that would work, and having it work more effortlessly. That is how a good story works. It flows, it gives direction to the talk, and it removes the speaker from any fears of talking in front of an audience, and removes the speaker from the temptation to use language with lockstep thesaurus-spitting precision. Such storytelling comes from the heart, rather than having the head filter everything out in an overly-intellectualized or pseudo-intellectualized filter.
When I approach the courthouse for trial or a pretrial hearing, the roadmap to victory includes, but certainly is not limited to, the following:
– Starting from a simple framework that will withstand opponents’ efforts to rattle it, so long as I do not let myself get distracted nor rattled in the process, making this a solid and Teflon framework as to keeping off any feces thrown its way.
– Adding flesh and skin to the framework through thorough preparation (including full preparation of my clients and our witnesses), immersion into the case, and full immersion in and command over the evidence, applicable law, and arguments to be presented in each case.
– Persuasive storytelling and persuasive and developmental unfoldment.
– Visualizing victory, thus bringing me closer to victory. Dwelling on the possibility of a lousy outcome in court distracts me from having my necessary weapons of success at the ready to use to the best advantage.
– Being at home in the courtroom and every step of the way, and setting the stage for the judge and jurors to feel similarly comfortable on the road to doing their best.
– Powerfully treating the courtroom as my playground.
– Shedding the ego and all agendas, except for keeping victory on the agenda.
I deeply thank SunWolf, my trigonometry teacher, and all my other teachers who have helped me become and remain a more effective and persuasive trial lawyer.