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To persuade jurors, drop the esquire-ish cotton paper attitude, and be real

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When I started practicing at my first law firm in 1989, I received a gift of two high-priced framed antique magazine caricatures of dead white British lawyers wearing powdered horse hair wigs. They have remained in their original box ever since. Gone must be the days when the legal profession and any other sector of life was the exclusive or near exclusive domain of any one race or gender, and gone must be the days when being a lawyer was some sort of elevated club rather than a privilege and obligation to do good and honest deeds with one’s law degree. I doubt Abraham Lincoln went around puffing out his chest and exposing his peacock plumes for being a lawyer. He worked it, instead.

My law office’s walls and halls — aside from my diplomas and bar certificates — are infused with life, including a client’s rendition of Trane, a client’s gift of a Ganesh painting, and meaningful pieces of artistry, including folk artistry, and a singing bowl that my wife and I have obtained over the years. About the only law-related artwork in my office is my law firm’s symbol that offsets the insufficiency of the scales of justice with the yin yang symbol that is the supreme ultimate.

I have experienced international travel, summer camps, living in nice homes, and never wanting financially. Paying for college and law school was no struggle. I know that I am no more entitled to such benefits than anyone else.

I do not see the legal profession as some rarefied work for any privileged set, but instead as a way to obtain true justice for clients. Advertisements for receptions honoring this or that judge, for shindigs to self=pat lawyers on their backs, or for bar-sponsored vacations to get a tax break in the process, have never enthused me. I was a human before becoming a lawyer, and remain a human helping people with the benefit of my law license.

I still remember the double culture shock of walking into the nearby resume printer in 1987 to start seeking employment during my first law school summer, by being told that law firms use all-cotton paper and expect the same in resumes and cover letters, and that lawyers and law job applicants call each other Ms./Mr. Legalese, Esquire. Esquire, schmesquire. What was the American revolution about if not to eliminate titles (including for medical doctors, despite two of my best friends being physicians) and the need to spend a fortune on all-cotton resume paper?

I would have loved to have attended law school with my trial lawyer friend with the nom de plume of Ray Sipsa, who once well observed: I was pissed off that I couldn’t get in there [into the nearby country club] and that my father, who had a blue collar instead of blue blood, couldn’t belong.  As a lawyer with my own practice, I finagled an invitation to join a private club…  At last I would be on the other side of that fence.  I then learned that as F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed, the rich are not like you and me.  The members were like the upper crust of insurance defense lawyers.  I didn’t belong there and as time went by my friends at the club were not other members but the people who worked there.  I quit, but much richer for the experience."

Ray is about as gentle and kind as they come, so when he says he says he was "pissed off", he truly was. I actually went to my parents’ country club many times from early childhood. It was started by Jewish founding members when other local clubs apparently had a penchant for excluding non-Christian, non-white members. I liked playing tennis and swimming there, but it was no more exciting for me than playing on the public tennis courts (other than its clay courts and shorter lines) and swimming in a public pool, other than that this one probably was less crowded. Being at the country club, though, kept me from being in contact with a wider cross section of people, which is so important in life. The concept of excluding people based on race, gender and religion infuriated me from an early age, and I did not see myself as any more deserving of private memberships than anyone else.

It’s a good thing that I have not seen myself as entitled to anything any more than others, because that sense of egalitarianism translates well into empathizing with, relating to, and, thereby, persuading others. It also is important for having no discomfort visiting clients in jail, interacting with people of all types in my work, and going to any neighborhood to investigate a client’s case.

Before making millions of dollars as an accomplished trial lawyer, author and television personality, Gerry Spence, one of my teachers, grew up in very humble economic surroundings. He knows what it is like to struggle personally and financially, and points out in this great video how essential it is for us to know ourselves and others as an essential component of persuading others.

Fortunately for me and other lawyers who grew up without financial struggle, one does not have to experience economic difficulties to be a great persuader. For starters, one just needs to be, without any legalistic, esquire-istic, cotton paperistic airs about them. We all breathe same air anyway.