I spent the weekend at a seminar that paired younger lawyers with more seasoned "mentors," lawyers and judges who generally had more gray hair than not. There were criminal lawyers and civil lawyers, district judges, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and a Ninth Circuit legend. The focus of my group was communication. If the jurors don’t understand you – whether you are the lawyer or the litigant – you cannot win.
To win, you must tell your story in a way the jury will understand.
Here are three things I took away from the weekend:
First – we lawyers are Normans, speaking to Saxons, and without much luck if left to our own devices. Special thanks here to Hon. Jon Shindurling, 7th District Judge. "It all goes back to the Norman conquest…" I think he’s right. The educated Normans conquered the Saxons and they became the educated ruling class in Europe (and America) ever after. Think Downton Abbey – upstairs, the Normans, downstairs – Saxons.
Most of us started as Saxons and learned the language of the Normans in college and law school. The problem is our juries are largely composed of Saxons – so we have to focus our language to communicate better with the folks who will decide the case. If your jury cannot understand you, you cannot move them.
Second – there are a lot of really great trial lawyers in Idaho! I watched a couple of closing arguments made by presenters with big skills. Nice to be among them for the weekend and it was encouraging to see how much time was willingly exchanged to help all of us get better at this craft.
Third – I would pay money to go and hear Hon. Randy Smith (9th Circuit) speak. He is a legendary trial lawyer who became a state district judge until lightening struck, and he ascended to the Court of Appeals. I hope to soon post a copy of his handout on standards of review for appeals. He was brutally honest about the likelihood of succeeding on appeal, as well as the obligation of the trial lawyer to understand and apply the correct standard of review. His message left me more convinced than ever that you must win your case at trial. You cannot wait for an appeals court to "correct" the jury.
Now back to work – I’ve got bad habits to erase and cases to prepare.