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How dry I am: Breathing life into seemingly dull cases

Mar 07, 2011 How dry I am: Breathing life into seemingly dull cases

A wonderful thing about practicing criminal defense is that persuasively colorful stories are available for the defense.

Long gone are the days at my first law firm — which I left after two years to join the Maryland Public Defender’s Office in 1991 — when I worked to find interesting and compelling stories and arguments to support corporations’ interests in maintaining and maximizing profits and assets. Fortunately, because the matters I worked on there rarely involved individuals getting possible shafts, I did not have writer’s block in that regard. Now long gone are the days when I would refer to a multivolume contracts drafting aid, lest I be reinventing the contracts scrivening wheel, as one of the law firm’s partners essentially put it.

Nevertheless, today I was reminded of those two years surrounded by only corporate clients, when I checked out a nearby courtroom after finishing with court for the day; part of the path to becoming a better lawyer is to watch colleagues in action. I found a lawyer droning on and on and on in opening statement about his client’s right in his real estate interests. Part of me wanted to see if the judge had taped his eyelids open. My overarching inclination was to bolt from the door, so I left.

The droning lawyer could have presented a more interesting and compelling story, including humanizing his client, no matter how wealthy or not. Instead, he droned.

Seemingly dry topics can be presented in ways more interesting than imagined at first blush. Two great examples of that were my college calculus and accounting professors. They both helped make the material seem more manageable to tackle while injecting well-placed humor into their presentations. My calculus professor talked of derivatives as being like Moses and the mountain, getting close to the finish line but not quite. My introductory accounting professor (the only accounting class offered, lest the liberal arts powers that were got antsy about the college’s swinging too close towards a tech school) was interesting enough merely from his streetwise Boston accent, one day quoting a bunch of bored students on summer vacation proclaiming "sgobeach" ("let’s go to the beach", a derivative of the Baltimorese "goin’ downy oshin, hon’").

Certainly, both my calculus and accounting professors truly enjoyed teaching and the subjects they taught, and that breathed life into their teaching otherwise seemingly dry topics.

A few courtroom doors down from the droning lawyer was a corporate collections lawyer whom I have known for over a dozen years. He is a mensch, a true human and gentleman. If I was being sued by a creditor, I would want him as my opposing lawyer, for at least he has kept his human heart. Judges likely feel less need to tape their eyelids open when listening to him.

When one sees his or her case a drone, the audience will hear a drone. When one cares about his or her client and sees his or her case in terms of a compelling story that needs to be solved in favor of the lawyer’s client, the drone disappears in favor of true human sharing and persuasion.

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