Monthly Archives: June 2011

Parenthood – Movies For Lawyers – The Act Of Communication Point Of View

22 June 2011

From Alan:

On June 11, we celebrated the birth of our first grandchild.  A baby girl. We have two sons…a married lawyer, who just had the baby girl, and a rock ‘n roller, about to be married in October. Family has always been a central part of our lives. Our parents all live near us and are in increasing need of our care…3 left and we feel blessed.

During the birth week, the cable channels were playing PARENTHOOD. Now, this film was released in 1989 and has always been a favorite and one that I will almost always stop and watch if I flip by the channel when it is on. But, now with the addition of a new generation in our lives, the film has taken on a new significance.

Bill Moyers, the wonderful journalist, says that the birth of a grandchild has to make you an optimist. You must be convinced that the world will survive and that things will be better in the future. I agree.

This sprawling, multi-generational, multi-plotted film is brilliant in so many ways. But, what lessons does it have for trial lawyers?

Well, I was struck by two things: point of view and theme.

There are many points of view in this story and many stories within the film. In film, switching point of view can be done in many ways – a jump cut, a black out, or simply beginning a new scene in a new place with different people. In live communication, it is a little trickier. You still have many tools at your disposal.

Pause, silence, move to a new physical spot in the room, a new tone of voice, a different pitch or volume. All of these can help the listener understand that you are now switching to a new topic or a new point of view. And as a trial lawyer, you must become a master STORYTELLER and that demands that you master all of the tools above….and more. A fully relaxed and modulated voice, a full range of pitch and a detailed understanding of vocal patterns and inflections. And most especially, when telling a complex story with many characters and more than one point of view it is imperative to clearly mark each change so the listener, judge and/or jury, can follow.

In PARENTHOOD, all the stories were connected by a common theme. This is another important lesson from this film for the trial lawyer. Locating and developing an overriding, overarching theme that connects all stories and all points of view into a unified whole.

Do yourself a favor and watch this film again and keep these two points in mind.

TIP: Are you clearly delineating and marking the changes in the story and the point of view? Find a unifying theme, an overriding theme, that connects all aspects of your story and all the stories of your case.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams – Movies For Lawyers – The Act Of Communication Point Of View

16 June 2011

From Alan:

CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS is not a film in wide release. That means it is not easy to find. It will play in only a few cities on a limited number of screens. But, if you can find it, please do. It is exceptional.

Werner Herzog, the filmmaker and documentarian, has been afforded access to visit the caves of Chauvet in Southern France. Here are the oldest known paintings that humans created. As an old friend of mine once said, “It was ever thus.”

To see the detail and grace of these paintings is to know that throughout time, humans have had the same feelings, intuitions and dreams. These images are 35,000 years old. And they portray the basic human needs: hunting for food, seeking shelter and the fertility of women – immortality. The magnificent renderings of horses, elk, and horned antelopes are captured in mid-run it seems. The naturalistic representation of the animals is in contrast to the abstract images of human, especially of women. They are portrayed as vessels of fertility. A spiritual awe is almost palpable.

What is also fascinating is listening to the scientists and artists, working together, struggling to find THE STORY. Who were these people? What did they want? Why did they paint these images? Of course we can’t know definitively, but the struggle to understand, to make sense, THROUGH STORY, of what is in these caves is the essential human endeavor. We tell stories. We look for them, we seek them, we can’t understand our history, our present nor think about our future without story.

And this, of course, is what trial lawyers should learn from this beautiful film. Find the story and attach that story to the largest theme you can conceive. If you don’t, the viewer, the listener, will look for one on her own and supply one for you.

TIP:  Are you telling a story that has been told for 35,000 years? Does your story link to a universal, eternal theme?

Budget Conscious Witness Preparation

13 June 2011


These days everyone, it seems, is looking to cut down on costs. Large corporations who used to hire big firms are now looking for “boutique” firms who can try their cases for less. Plaintiff’s firms, who used to live and die by the model “wait until the last minute and then spend, spend, spend” are allocating time and resources on a per case basis from the time they get involved in a lawsuit. Criminal Defense lawyers are finding that they have to put their Clients on the witness stand more than before…and how many criminal cases have unlimited funds? And the insurance companies who are involved at the heart of so many of our cases are cutting litigation corners right and left.

I recently wrote an article for Jury Expert that is intended to give attorneys some good advice on how to prepare as efficiently as possible. This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have to pull out the checkbook and get a witness preparation specialist involved in your case. Just because times are hard doesn’t mean that some witnesses will simply be beyond your skills as an attorney to prepare. But with proper planning, preparation and taking advantage of cyber space you can keep your costs at a minimum.

To read the full article with useful tips and advice when preparing witnesses on a budget please visit our knowledge tank.

Midnight In Paris – Movies For Lawyers – The Act Of Communication Point Of View

8 June 2011

From Katherine:

Okay. I’ll admit it. I have been angry with Woody Allen for YEARS and you know why. Every time he makes another brilliant movie, I forgive him a little bit more – and this time I think I am completely through being mad. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is a must see! Run, do not walk! The theme of the illusion that living in another place and time would solve all your problems certainly hits home for me. OF COURSE I WANT TO LIVE IN PARIS IN THE 1920S SURROUNDED BY ALL THE GREAT ARTISTS AND WRITERS WHO WERE THERE. Duh! And the performances are brilliant. But it is one performance, that of Owen Wilson, that I think attorneys will find most useful in practicing the law. He plays “The Woody Allen Character.”

Ah, the evolution of the Woody Allen Character. I fell in love with Woody Allen when I saw Bananas nine times. Brilliant, funny – an amazing writer and actor – I was in awe. His quirky smart comedy combined with his wonderful delivery never failed to amaze me. All nine times. Over the years his films have bowled me over as he has grown and changed as an artist. But those comedies – there is really nothing like them. Also, over the years, as he has aged he has taken to having another actor play “The Woody Allen Character” in his movies. In MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, it is Owen Wilson.

When I first started working with attorneys, I saw that young lawyers were all imitating their mentors. Playing their version of their own personal and deeply influential “The Woody Allen Character.” Sometimes it is funny and endearing. Kind of like when our kids were teenagers and I had to dress them up to go to traffic court in one of Alan’s sport coats and ties so that they could hang onto their drivers’ licenses. There is something really moving about a young attorney putting on the personality of his or her mentor. It never quite fits and you have to roll up the cuffs. Then as I got older and started looking at all attorneys, regardless of age, I saw that many have either a gigantic or a small bit of that imitation still at the heart of their trial personality. Sometimes it serves them well – almost like a pocket watch passed down from grandfather to grandson. Just a bit of an accessory. An homage. I am thinking now about an attorney who takes a small pause, looks at the jurors and smiles before she gives a really big point in her closings. I remember her mentor and she wears that gold watch with ease and pride. Really well integrated and coordinated.

But then I see attorneys who have really outgrown that old mentor – or at least their youthful version of that old mentor that is now completely “at odds” with their adult person. I am thinking now of an attorney who gives a big, bold and completely false gesture straight out of the Clarence Darrow playbook when wanting the jurors to know that he is disgusted with what opposing counsel said in closing. As if Clarence Darrow would have the same playbook in the 21st Century that he did in the 20th!

Do you have a mentor? Now…look at how Owen Wilson plays “The Woody Allen Role” in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. You absolutely know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the base and root of that character is Woody Allen. But – the heart and soul is Owen Wilson. Every expression of delight, heartache, longing, and surprise is his – but we sure do know that Woody Allen is an integral part of what he is doing as an actor.

A note about my relationship with Woody – or as I sometimes call it “when he betrayed us all.” You know when I fell out of love with him. I know that it is best to “trust the art and not the artist” but I really let his behavior get in my way. As my friend, Terry said, “He was her father. If he ever once said, ‘Listen to your mother!’ he was her father!” At any rate, I think I’ve fully forgiven him now. Or maybe I just want to see Paris in the 1920s nine times…

TIP: Is your mentor showing up in your delivery? And is it a good thing?

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Bridesmaids – Movies For Lawyers – The Act Of Communication Point Of View

2 June 2011

From Katherine:

If you are an attorney, you should go see BRIDESMAIDS just because you are working MUCH TOO HARD and you need to laugh until you cry. Did you love The Forty Year Old Virgin as much as I did? Then you know that anything that Judd Apatow produces might make you laugh and tug at your heartstrings at the same time. Paul Feig has directed some of my favorite television shows (The Office, Nurse Jackie, Mad Men, 30 Rock). If you like them, too, you will be as excited as I was to see this talented guy make the leap to the big screen.

BUT – ultimately it isn’t the guys who make this film great. It is the women. The Women. THE WOMEN. The amazing actress/writer/producer Kristen Wiig is stunning in all three of her capacities. Actresses Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, and the late Jill Clayburgh make this film unforgettably brilliant. I don’t think I have ever seen anything from a woman’s point of view that was this funny. I don’t think anyone else has, either. Ever. It is relentlessly female. Relentlessly funny and female.

In the audience with me when I saw the film over the weekend were Alan and our own soon-to-be-bride of 2011, Ariana, and her fiancée, our son, Nathan. The large audience we saw it with was filled with women and men – some seeing the show with “dates”, some as a guys’ night out, some as a gals’ night out. The top of the film was a bit uncomfortable as the men and women in the audience all changed their points of view from what was “normal” to what was “different”. In a “normal” hysterically funny comedy, the point of view is decidedly male. To start a film with a woman having a really hysterically funny bad time in bed with an insensitive man is “different”. First the men I was with and a few others started to laugh with the women in the audience…then more…and more…and then by the time the scene was over the whole audience was laughing in big belly laughing waves together. Brilliant!

What can lawyers learn from the experience of seeing BRIDESMAIDS on the big screen? Women are different from men. I find working on a case with a woman or women in charge very different from working with men. Men are often very top down. Whoever is lead counsel in a case in which I am the only female on the trial team can choose to stay on the top of a pyramid and dictate from that position. Roles are assigned and to stray from the role one is assigned is simply never done. I call this “Playing Law With The Boys”. On the other hand…women are often team players. When lead counsel in the case is a woman, all of us sit around a table and she will throw a problem out and everyone brainstorms it. At the end of the day, she will decide what course to take with the problem – but she wants everyone’s opinion, ideas, and advice. I call this phenomenon “Playing Law Like A Girl”. I say “Like A Girl” because there are male attorneys who play this way, too. I call them “girl-y men”. I can give no higher praise than to call a male attorney with whom I work a “girl-y man”.

Although they do show up occasionally in my own generation, the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), I find that “girl-y men” are showing up more and more in Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976 or clear up to 1980, depending on which scientist you follow). You will note that the core folks who made BRIDESMAIDS are all GenXers: Wiig, Apatow, and Feig. They describe making the film as a large collaboration – not just because there is a strong tradition of improv in the cast. Every time you laugh until you cry when you see this film, know that it came from collaboration at every level instead of top down. Think about your own style of trying cases. Do you sit at the top of the pyramid at all times? Or are you more of a collaborator?

TIP: Are you already “Playing Law Like A Girl”? If not, maybe it is time you did.

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