Monthly Archives: November 2012

Liberal Arts — Movies for Lawyers — The Act Of Communication Point Of View

29 November 2012

Katherine:

 

College. Literature. Departmental Politics. Insight into the hearts and minds of professors and students – both undergrad and eternal. As a child of academics, these are the subject matters of my life. Usually when there is a film about college, I cringe. This one had me laughing, tearing up and saying, “Ain’t that the truth.”

Josh Radnor has made a truly lovely and heartfelt film without straying from the truth of what life in The English Department can be about. My dad was in The English Department. I was raised there. What can I say? I have a special critical eye when it comes to this subject matter. Also, I met Josh Radnor when Alan was performing Awake And Sing with him in The Berkshires a dozen years ago. Even as a young professional, Josh told me of his plans to make films – and over the years he has done just that with his hiatus time from his hit show (How I Met Your Mother). This time, he really comes into his own as a filmmaker in my opinion. He is a lovely actor as well and does beautifully in the role of the college recruiter visiting his old Alma Mater and finding himself falling in love with a student. There are wonderful performances in addition to his own. Richard Jenkins as the retiring professor who wants a “do over” is brilliant. Alison Janney as the tough as nails professor of the English Romantic takes what might become a cliché into ironic delight.

What is it in for lawyers? Other than a sweet ride? I must say, as soon as it was clear that the college recruiter in his mid-thirties was falling for the student in her early twenties, I started getting really uncomfortable. Over the sixty years I have been alive, I have watched the relationship between students and faculty/administrators change for the better. When I was a kid, professors (male) met their spouses when they were teaching them in class. There are many famous examples of this – I keep thinking Walter Kerr and Jean Kerr, although there were tons in my real life. Then, when I was a student, it was widely accepted that professors and students were allowed to sleep together – again, surprisingly, male professors and female students. I consider myself really fortunate for not getting involved in anything like that. Since leaving school and moving on and looking at this whole situation through legal eyes, I have a different perspective on the issue. A person with power over another person in a relationship will always have an unequal relationship. I think Radnor makes his character’s college a different place from the one in which he falls in love with a student for good reason. It certainly dodges this legal bullet. But I still felt uncomfortable. I still found this relationship to be unequal in terms of power. It really got my “is this an ethical situation” antennae up. What do you think?

 

TIP: If it feels unethical – is it…?

 

The Master — Movies for Lawyers — The Act Of Communication Point Of View

13 November 2012

Katherine:

 
Is there anything worse than spending the summer too busy to go to the movies and then finally going to the movies and seeing The Master? I don’t think so.

So, the first part of the film I thought, “How could such a brilliant filmmaker (Paul Thomas Anderson) and such an amazing cast make such a horrible film?” Then I spent the next part thinking, “I’m at The Westside Pavillion. I could leave right now, tell Alan I’ll meet him in a couple of hours and get those shoes.” And then I thought, “Oh, my GAWD. I am having the experience of a juror in a poorly conducted trial.”

Of course, that is when I got interested in learning something over the two hours there were left of the film that might be helpful to those of you who read this blog.

Let’s start with the most extreme issue. I could not follow the plot. Once in a while I thought I could – but then I couldn’t. And it went on and on and on and on senselessly for way over two hours. How many jurors have told me over the years that they were clueless as to what was going on?

I disliked Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character. But I really really really hated the main character, played by Joaquin Phoenix. There was nothing interesting or redeemable about him. He was weird and creepy and I wanted to spend absolutely no time with him at all. How many times does a criminal defense lawyer make the wise decision not to put on the accused? How many times has a civil lawyer said, “The jurors hated our guy. Of course they poured us out.”?

I am crazy about Amy Adams. I felt sorry for her being a part of this mess. But then I thought, “Girlfriend – read the script the next time.” How often do jurors say, “I felt sorry for the witness, but, really – she must have gotten into this mess all by herself. I sure can’t help her out of it. Too bad.”?

Yes, gentle reader – I stayed instead of getting those shoes because I felt the horror that I hope your jurors never ever feel when sitting in a courtroom while you are trying a case.

Just follow the tip. You don’t have to see this one, trust me.

 

TIP:  Don’t confuse the jurors, make them angry, and otherwise make them hate you.
 
 

What Can Witnesses Learn From Romney’s Concession Speech?

9 November 2012

From Katherine:

 

Now that the dust is cleared and we are all moving on, I wanted to tell you what I was thinking Tuesday night during Mitt Romney’s Concession Speech: “Wow – he is like the most improved witness ever!” A comparison of the Mitt of the campaign and the Mitt of Tuesday night is like the difference between a witness before being prepared and a witness after.  Here are some great things he did:

He was Real. This is something that I work on with witnesses again and again and again. Remember how forced and not himself he was in so many speeches and debates? The campaigning Romney reminded me of so many witnesses who stop acting like themselves and start acting like other people during the stress of testifying. Tuesday night, the real Romney appeared. Warm, compassionate, a real and regular guy. That is always a goal for which to strive as a witness.

He was Connected. He not only connected with everyone in that room, he connected with the American people who were watching him. Getting a witness to understand the importance of connecting with the jurors is almost always a big task. Witnesses often think the connection is between themselves and their attorney or opposing counsel. Far from it. It is always with the jurors.

He was Gracious. The time for negative campaigning was clearly over. He didn’t treat his opponent like the enemy. The same is true for a witness on the stand. Don’t fight opposing counsel – let your lawyer and the jurors do that. That is their job, not yours.

He was Humble. Not humiliated – humble. There is a big difference. Getting a witness to be humble rather than defensive is a major task in many cases. Many people’s attitude toward the other side begins with the phrase, “How dare you –.” Instead, the attitude toward the jurors needs to be, “Thank you so much for being here.”

Whether he was your guy or not your guy, if you are an attorney and you put witnesses on the stand, you can learn a lot from what Mitt Romney did on Tuesday night during that speech. And so can your witnesses. I’m planning on using him as an example for a long time.