Monthly Archives: July 2011

Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill A Mockingbird – Movies For Lawyers – The Act Of Communication Point Of View

27 July 2011

From Katherine:

Ask attorneys what book and movie were their greatest influencers in choosing to become a lawyer and 9 out of 10 respond TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Now there is a fantastic documentary in limited release in theaters but available for sale on DVD on the author, book and film. The filmmaker is veteran Mary McDonagh Murphy and its title is HEY, BOO: HARPER LEE & TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

For every attorney who wanted to become Atticus, related to Scout, grew up in the shadow of Boo Radley, or wanted so badly to see that nothing bad ever happened to another Tom Robinson, this film acts as a “must take” journey. Murphy goes into great depth about the back story of Harper Lee and her writing of her great and only novel. She gives us further insight into all the characters, including her father who was the basis for Atticus. We hear from a host of folks, including her sister who still practices the law in her late 90s! There are “behind the scenes” tales of what went on during the filming told by Mary Badham who played Scout.

But for me, it is the commentary by “others” that offers attorneys the most valuable lessons. First, there is the commentary on the politics of the time (Andrew Young, Oprah Winfrey, and Tom Brokaw). The interplay between the book, the movie and the civil rights movement is so moving. It reminds everyone who has the privilege of working for justice how great an impact our cases can have.

Second, there is the commentary by the writers who are forever influenced and affected by the book. I kept thinking about how attorneys will talk about a great trial lawyer who was a mentor with stunning examples of what made him or her so good. Here, you are experiencing other writers talking about this master writer and her masterwork (a work that is influencing a 6th grader today who is going to become a lawyer just like you did!).

I can think of no greater master class in storytelling that I could send you to right here and right now. It is simply delicious. It will inevitably make you look at your own storytelling as a trial lawyer on a whole new level. Why? Because they are all talking about the storytelling skills of a work you think you know as well as you know your own heart. Just wait. You’ll learn even more.

TIP: Can you list the qualities that make you a good trial lawyer? Did you get them from trying to be like Atticus?

My Cousin Vinny – Movies For Lawyers – The Act Of Communication Point Of View

21 July 2011

From Katherine:

Summer is in full swing – time to kick back and look at old favorites and what they can teach us! It seems like a big favorite for attorneys is MY COUSIN VINNY. Who doesn’t love Joe Pesci’s Vinny? Who doesn’t envision himself/herself kicking major ass big time in the endearing way that Vinny does in all those courtroom scenes at the end of the film?

Although I am crazy about the courtroom scenes, it is the journey of Vinny’s learning curve that always sucks me in. I think that is where the real lessons for attorneys lie. They include:

1. Know your case, dude.
2. Know the law, bro.
3. Dress like the lawyers do in the town in which you are trying the case, pal.
4. Don’t piss off the judge, especially if he once played Herman Munster.
5. Trust your trial team – particularly if she is smarter than you are.
6. Once points 1-5 are under your belt, you can fly.

How many lawyers love the feeling of point 6, but aren’t willing to do the work and take the journey that encompasses points 1-5? Watch Vinny. It may be your second time, it may be your millionth, but watch the first part and see if there aren’t some laughs of recognition this time.

TIP: You can’t soar like an eagle if you aren’t willing to take the journey to the top of the cliff.

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

14 July 2011

From Katherine:

BEGINNERS is a must see film.  I know, I know, it is in limited release. It shouldn’t be – it should be in your local theater in my opinion.  BEGINNERS is a delicately woven tale of how we are ALWAYS “starting over” in the game of life.  But we start over bringing the past with us – a past that rarely lets us either live in the moment or leap into the next chapter of our lives with the willingness to embrace a blank slate.

The performances are brilliant.  Is there any day of the week with a “y” in it that you DON’T want to see Christopher Plummer’s extraordinary artistry? But the work of the film maker – writer and director Mike Mills – is truly masterful and not to be missed.

But what is in it for lawyers to go to BEGINNERS? Two elements of storytelling – emotional truth and passage of time – are skillfully demonstrated and readily useful in cases.

Let’s start with point of view.  The entire film is told from one point of view – that of the character Oliver, played by the wonderful Ewan McGregor. What is unique about the telling of Oliver’s story is that the clear emotional truth of each scene is raw and present.  As McGregor plays the scenes of his past and present, he is as emotionally alive as he was when they were happening to him.  For those of you who are lawyers who have studied or read about psychodrama, you would put that label on it.  For those of you, who like Alan and me, studied acting, you learned it as “emotional recall” or “sense memory.”  When I work with witnesses, I often take them back in time to get them to express the emotional truth of a piece of testimony they must give.  Sometimes it is the time when a child was misdiagnosed by a doctor.  Sometimes it is the time when a contract was forced on someone. Sometimes it is the moment when a partner realized the other partner had betrayed him. As you watch the film, be aware of how fully and completely the character is immersed in the moment he is recalling.  Haven’t you needed that from your witnesses – at least from time to time?

The second element is passage of time. This film is not told in chronological order.  So in order to orient us to the time period he wants us to find Oliver in, Mike Mills does two interesting things.  He says, for example, “This is 1955.” We then are given a still photo of them time.  Then “This is what cars looked like.” We are then given a still photo of a car of the time. We then are oriented with a few more repeatable elements.  Finally, he says “This is what it looked like when people were in love.” We then are given a series of still photos from the time of people in love.  This sequence: date, a few elements that are repeatable and which have changed, and then the eternal element that doesn’t (love) is HIGHLY EFFECTIVE.  It takes very little time and it is SO HELPFUL. Imagine you have a case that takes place over several years.  You need to orient the jurors visually to how things are different now from what they used to be. As I said in the blog post here for Fair Game (3/30/11) – this is your job.  I love the idea of the simple repetition of the same elements visually again and again as we watch them change. Mike Mills uses time and repetition again in a few places by simply changing one element in the visual in photo after photo after photo for a few seconds.  For example, in one time marker there is a plate cookies in the waiting room of the outpatient clinic where father Hal (Plummer) and son Oliver (McGregor) go for several weeks and months for Hal’s chemo appointments.  The plate, table, plant remain the same.  But the cookies change from shot to shot…and with that change we know that they have gone into that room again and again and again over days and days and days.  It is absolutely brilliant and you can adapt it to the visuals of your case.


1. Are your witnesses emotionally truthful and present?
2. Tell your jurors about the passage of time through your visuals.

Divergent Thinking, Collaboration and Creativity

1 July 2011

From Alan:

Several posts ago, I talked about The Empathetic Response and how it might be beneficial for lawyers to understand connecting with jurors on that level.

Here, I want to share a spectacular talk by Kenneth Robinson on Divergent Thinking, Collaboration and Creativity. RSA, a wonderful company that creates animated shorts bringing ideas to life, has made this amazing clip.

Several points are important for attorneys to understand. First of all: The Delivery. When discussing graphics and supportive material to bring a case to life, most lawyers rely on language….charts, graphs, excerpts from transcripts and occasionally photos or videos. While watching this clip see how the non-verbal, purely visual story totally supports the verbal narrative unfolding during the clip. While this actual technique might be too expensive for most attorneys, the idea of it is what you should take away. How do you best create a non-verbal, elegant unfolding of your story.

Secondly, the message of the clip is so important to understand. Especially for folks in solo practice, or in firms that do not encourage and support true collaboration, learn from this how essential it is to find the synergy in collaboration. I know this might be an overused word, which has gone out of style, but the effect is very powerful. It is not necessary to do it all alone. In fact, it is often, almost always, to work with others. Something that our educational system and law school does not encourage.

Finally, learn the value of divergent thinking. This is sometimes termed, “outside the box” thinking. And it is often beaten out of us during our schooling.

This clip was inspirational to me and I hope you will find it so, as well.

TIP: Allow yourself to think of your case in new ways. Seek out collaborators who think and approach things differently from you. And finally, explore the possibilities of non-verbal visuals.