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Essential to persuasion is an open and engaged heart

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By Jon Katz, a criminal defense lawyer and DWI/ DUI/ Drunk Driving lawyer advocating in Fairfax County, Virginia, and beyond for the best possible results for his

Essential to persuasion is an open and engaged heart. Nice court clothes and a good hair stylist help the jury focus on the lawyer rather than his or her appearance (if not dressed too fancy nor with excessively expensive bling), but must not be allowed to hide what is inside the lawyer. Top-ranked law schools, high grades, law review, and moot court selection are great resume builders for getting one’s foot in the door and for showing the ability, willingness and stamina to thrive in a competitive environment (but average academic performance does not automatically correlate with a law student’s potential for success as a lawyer). However, law school performance should not come at the expense of a harmoniously-lived and complete life. As Ralph Nader exhorted us when speaking at my law school during my first year, we need to be willing to risk our grade-point average to do good in the present. (Yet, a lawyer from the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which he co-founded, later told me that Public Citizen is grade snobs when it comes to hiring. )

Without an open, engaged and compassionate heart — one that risks being wounded — one is a less persuasive trial lawyer. That approach wisely is heavily emphasized at the Trial Lawyers College, to center oneself on one’s heart zone rather than mainly on one’s head zone, even if that means unlearning the knee-jerk intellectual-speak taught in law schools and colleges, and even when that means getting in touch with the years of deep pain that so many people (including opposing lawyers, witnesses, judges and jurors) lug around and try to cover up even to themselves. As also emphasized at the TLC, including by the great John Johnson of Friday Harbor, Washington, who believed strongly in people’s ability to derive great power from being real, feeling and expressing love, and finding inner peace. To deal with our pain, John said, we first must embrace the pain before sending it on its way; this sounds similar to the t’ai chi approach of embrace tiger, return to mountain. John much preferred having a bucket of cow dung to a bucket of beautiful fake flowers, for at least the cow dung bucket holds something real. For John, the necessity and power of realness was underlined by the Velveteen Rabbit.

In such writings by Ram Dass as Grist for the Mill (1974), he speaks in terms of being aware of such challenging feelings as depression by being more of a neutral observer, for instance to say to ourselves when feeling depression: I am observing depression — and even to embrace the depression before sending it on its way — which can help deflate and eliminate the depression more quickly, as if to blow past us as if a sailboat in the ocean.

After watching this video, how do you feel?

Thanks to the listserv member who introduced me to this video — from an Internet company — two years and thirteen million hits after it was launched.