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The power of the pause

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The naturally-placed pause has power. I only wish the following people knew it and applied it.

One day, I took a taxi in Washington, D.C., and at the destination the driver quoted a fee that was at least fifty percent higher than the then-in-force zone system for billing taxi rides. When I told him of the overcharge, he reduced the price by ten percent. When I said he still had overcharged me, he propounded "It’s free. I’m a Maryland cab," apparently intended to mean that he did not know the zone billing system, or to mask an intended overbilling. As I told him as I was getting out of the cab that I was happy to pay the right fee, he insisted "Time is money" as he started speeding off almost without my having had a chance to close the door.

Recently at one of D.C.’s best-tasting Italian restaurants, after I ordered a vegetarian pasta dish the server nearly grabbed the menu out of my hand and sped away. He is a nice man, and most of the people working there know my family. However, he seemed in such a rush nearly the whole evening, including dashing away as soon as he dropped off the extra garlic we had requested. Tips awaited him, but don’t better tips come from taking an extra second to place the dish of garlic on the table with a smile or at least a pause? The waiter was quick to offer us wine as his first words that night, with wine bringing good tips, but perhaps we became unworthy of his attention when he saw we do not order alcohol. An irony is that wine is typically enjoyed slowly, in the midst of this server’s rushing about hither and yon with his words and body, and with ungrounded attention.

Many years ago, before finding two great dentists who know their craft and take time with their patients, I mentioned to my previous dentist that I had decided to come to him despite the availability of dentists at my then HMO (I quickly switched to a PPO). He started telling me how HMO dentists can be good, but might not have learned how to be profitable in self employment. He said that to make money as a dentist, the dentist needs to know how to work quickly and well. Then, as a lampoon of his comment, no sooner did he finish putting in the last of my filling that he patted me on the shoulder and said "See ya", departed, and left his hygienist to finish up, the novocaine not having eased my distaste for the dentist’s hasty exit.

As if the above trilogy were not enough on the point of haste, recently, my wife and I bought a piece of furniture for around $1000. When I asked the salesperson for a receipt, he looked all anxious and said it had been emailed to me. I said "I understand, but the receipt has not yet arrived on my cellphone, and for this price tag, I would like to leave with a receipt." He reluctantly printed and gave me the receipt, I offered a handshake, but he barely gave me a finger for a handshake, when he then rushed off to the next customer, lest one of his coworkers get the commission.

Then on the topic of time, we have lawyers. Those who bill by the hour might feel the pressure of being efficient for each minute of billing, lest the client seek someone more efficient, but other hourly billing lawyers might feel tempted to linger longer on the work, to keep earning more billable hours. Those lawyers billing flat fees will from time to time realize that they billed too low based on the work needed. The good lawyer will work as hard for the client s/he has underbilled as if the client had paid ten times the fee charged. Flat fee-billing lawyers sometimes will realize that their bill was higher than needed. Will they provide a partial refund for the extra charge, or rationalize that sometimes their fee is insufficient and sometimes more than sufficient, seeing it all as a financial wash? I give back the partial fee when I determine that I did not need to bill as high as I did. Then we have lawyers who bill on contingency, which is common for lawyers representing injury victims. They tend to see no compensation until their case resolves, unless they lose the case, and often end up investing at least a few thousand dollars for expenses, gambling on a payoff that could end up being sizeable, middling, paltry, or non-existent.

At the Trial Lawyers College, we learned the importance of loving our clients, and hugging them, whether proverbially or literally when the lawyer and client mutually want to hug When we do so, we not only humanize our client or themselves and for juries, but we also further humanize ourselves. Clients are not to be rushed. They have a voice, and want to voice their feelings, thoughts, ideas and information. A lawyer declines at his or her own peril to listen closely and intuitively to clients.

Do you want your surgeon to be anxious to get to his or her tee time, and, in the course of it, to forget a sponge or towel or two, or three, inside your body before sewing you up, only to leave you with a severe infection?

People are not numbers. They are living, breathing people, with wants, hopes, and dreams. People do not want to be treated as cogs in the wheel, as dollar bills to be milked the minute they walk into a store, nor as cattle to be "crowd managed" and frisked by police and other security at rock concerts and airports. People want to be valued, and treated as the individuals they are.

Learn to pay genuine attention to each person as if they are the most important person to you at the moment, and you are far ahead of the game in getting anywhere with that person, whether it be getting their assistance, persuading them, or simply having them as an ally

Our society is oversaturated with people pursuing the ill-conceived New York minutes, "quick questions" (which do not always have quick answers), and highway tailgating (lest they miss the opening credits of their favorite TV show.) We do not need to get sucked into such neurosis. We are by nature meant for non-rushing natural rhythms. We have around nine months in our mothers’ wombs, unrushed. As babies we eat sleep, poop, and play, unhurried. We learn to crawl, walk, run, and talk in our due course.

Then it all changes, but only if we let it. Schools push children to test well — often with stressfully short testing times to answer a multitude of questions — but not necessarily to learn well, but instead to justify school budgets and teachers’ jobs. Workplaces seek efficiency, efficiency, efficiency, too often overlooking, ignoring, and shunning the power of humanity over pushing humans to be high-producing automatons. Except for those flying first class, most airlines squeeze passengers into tiny seats, even for lengthy flights. Cops, prosecutors, judges and jailers try to shove the alleged and convicted ne’er do wells into cages, often only to emerge no better than when they were caged, and often worse.

Seeing a sea of humans, overcrowded dockets, and courthouse and courtroom personnel cranky about working any overtime, plenty of judges chase dockets, some at least admitting to themselves that they are shortchanging justice in the process, but others convincing themselves that all is fine and dandy.

What do I do, then, when a judge is pressuring me to tell him or her whether my client will have a trial or plead guilty, when the misdemeanor prosecutor — who might not have even known about my client’s case before the day of court — has just extended a settlement offer? When I am at my best, I smile, and tell the judge I wish x-y minutes more to assure that I fulfill the Supreme Court’s mandate that criminal defendants not plead guilty or not without knowingly, understandingly, and voluntarily doing so (and they cannot do so in just one morning, so I prepare my clients well in advance of the possibilities, and move to reschedule court dates — or, better yet, let the prosecutor be the one to seek the postponement — when my client needs more time to consider his or her options). I speak at a regular pace rather than at a rushed pace. I have empathy and compassion for the judge’s agenda and plight while serving my client as kick-a** as I can

When the judge sees that I know what I am doing, will not waste time, and will be efficient with my time, I am more likely to get time from a judge to defend my client and pursue his or her cause. The judge may not always give me sufficient time, but might give me more time than if I had not engendered such confidence in my actions and abilities.

The pause can be powerful, to keep us centered and gathered and composed as a judge barks about needing to "move things along," a prosecutor threatens to take a settlement offer off the table if not accepted within ten minutes, and a client or his or her family members are freaking out over the defendant’s plight. Speaking at a regular rate makes us understood. Talking too fast is as effective as speaking Vulcanese.

In music, the well-placed pause can be as powerful as the played note. In art, not every piece of the sketch paper needs to be filled in. For trial, the great Larry Pozner has taught the power of silence by things as simple as walking to counsel table, picking up a transcript, and walking towards the witness stand before using it as a weapon to cross a cop, or pouring some water to buy a few seconds to figure out how to handle a curve ball. A pause in closing argument can foretell a powerful point about to come, like the silence before a devastating storm.

The more people pause to get enough sleep and nutrition, to exercise, to meditate, and to do good things for themselves, the more energized, efficient and successful they will be. Be good to yourself and body, and they will be good to you. Cross their path, and pay the price.

A supervisor at the bank I worked at before law school once advised me to be as busy as a bee, but bees do not live very long. Balanced time efficiency is good, but haste makes waste. Less is more. Through well-placed pauses, we find our way better through the daily hustle-bustle. When I can help my clients pause and see not only their cases but their daily lives for what they really are, I can better help my clients present themselves better in court, assist me in assisting them, and help my clients achieve better decisionmaking in their cases.