As writers and/or lawyers, what practical pointers can make us better at our craft? After all, we are artists telling a story. What can make those stories better? Read on…
1. Put in the necessary hours.
To be a competent lawyer, it has been said that one must practice over 10,000. The same is true of writers. Three novels minimum to learn pacing, story, plot, narrative voice, foreshadowing. etc. Only then do you develop core competence. Now some of us like Steven King or Dean Koontz are natural innate story tellers. Bot most of us aren’t that lucky. So put the time in.
2. Be a professional and be disciplined.
Steve and I have been lucky to have cases referred to us by opposing counsel after a case is over. Why? Because you never get personal and unprofessional. Being a zealous advocate does not mean you get to a jerk to the opposing attorney or their client. You will sleep better at night if you adopt this one item and live by it.
3. Start with a good hook.
Talking to prospective jurors during a mini-opening statement, what can you say that will help the jurors identify with your client? A good jury is not a pissed off jury. They want satisfaction, just as a reader of fiction or non-fiction does. Your don’t want their pity. You want to empower them to feel that the case and your client are important. You want to appeal to their sense of justice.
4. Pacing is everything. Tone and tempo mean a lot too.
Think about how you are going to tell your story. Start with the injured employee on the witness stand first? Maybe the jury will feel manipulated if your do. A better approach might be to start with the employer’s testimony first. Lock them into their story. Then put the terminated employee on the stand. Use that testimony and e-mails or whatever to show how/why the employer’s story could not be true. Far more effective because you are creating a sense of conflict and tension.
5. Patience is a virtue.
As lawyers and writers, we tend to want to hurry. Time is money. Hurry the judge to make a ruling. Hurry the witness to answer your questions. Hurry the process of writing. But good writing and good ideas cannot be rushed. They are like fine wine. Sometimes, they need time to develop and ferment in the oak barrels we call our brain to be anything worth sharing.
6 (a). Perry Mason moments are for Perry Mason.
In my experience, they simply don’t happen. Enough said.
6 (b). Listen, listen listen.
So many times I see lawyers so locked into an outline of questions that they do not hear the witness’s answer which is gold for their case. I writer must listen to what the character is saying. What would the character say if you were there stream of consciousness. Some of my best writing happens this wasy.
7. Don’t forget to breathe.
Just as good tense writing needs comic relief, so does good lawyering. Sometimes, if you mess up in front of a jury, the best thing you can do is own it and laugh it off. You are human after all. You are just like your jurors – you just happened to go to law school and pass the bar exam and they didn’t. So forget the legal ease and legal words. Speak to jurors in plain English. Don’t talk to them like you are their superior. You are not.
8. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Your witness, your plot, your story. This is a representation of you. Do you want it to be adequate? Or do you want it to be great? Don’t write a half-assed query letter. Don’t do a half-assed deposition preparation. It will show.
9. Take them on the journey with you.
Whether it is in a courtroom or in a novel, the power of descriptive words and human imagination are your friends. Carry the jurors or your readers with you as you speak. They want to be entertained. They want to go with you to where ever you want to take them. (See more on this below).
10. Never forget – it’s not about you.
It’s about your client, if you are a lawyer. It is about your characters and reader satisfaction, if you are a writer.
Even if you represent companies, there is a way to draw a story. I represented a tea company in Federal patent litigation. I thought, how am I going to make this company something the jurors can relate to? Instead of talking about the company, I talked about its founder, as a young man in India, picking tea leaves with his father in the fields, the morning air soft around them as they moved among the greenery. I talked about how much the boy cherished these times. I talked about him learning about something that would become his life’s passion, tea. I painted a picture for the jury. I took them on a journey of a young man, who eventually immigrated to the US and started this company from scratch. By the time I was done, it was not a company. The company had morphed into something more powerful. A boy and his journey in life.
I hope these items provide help and insight. I know just writing them out make me a better lawyer and a better writer.