A client who has made several comments that have prompted prior blogs mentioned recently that, sometimes, things look great in the war room, but in the bright lights of the courtroom, they fall flat. I think he made a great point. As a photographer, I know that one of the keys to success in photography is photographing things in the right light. That is, the light most flattering to the subject. This could be front light, back light, side light, Rembrant lighting, low key, high key, and so on. Sometimes the light is too hot, sometimes it is too dim, and sometimes, it needs diffusion. Part of the problem is that trial teams are often focused on their case, their theories, their plan, etc. such that they fail to comprehend that not everyone will agree with their points of view. Sometimes, it is because everyone on the team is trying to say “yes” to the team leader. This particular form of groupthink is dangerous. Because those who are working up the case don’t get to render a verdict, it is critical to find out what people who resemble the decision makers will decide. And, not only find out what they will decide, but how to massage the details to present them in, well, the best light. Neither side gets to control the lighting in the courtroom in the way they do in their respective war rooms because they are sniping at each other, and, there is the judge to consider, maybe the media too. Much better to find out in advance, with focus groups and trial simulations, how the evidence can be best shown, how the issues can be illuminated, and how the story can be told for maximum impact. Patting the trial team members on the back for war room strategizing may feel good while it is happening, but if the trial attorney has any doubt about how the information he/she presents will be viewed, it is better to find out than get blown out by the klieg lights in the courtroom.
People differ in their ability to see things from other people’s point of view. I am in the process of becoming a circuit civil mediator and I recently completed the training program that is a required part of this process. As I expected, most of my co-students were attorneys and I was the only psychologist in the class. The attorneys with whom I took the class expressed considerable frustration over the fact that, while they had attended hundreds of mediations, they had done so as advocates for their client. Never, until taking the mediator training course had they been required to see a lawsuit from the point of view of both sides, the plaintiff and defendant, as well as from a completely neutral perspective of the mediator. The “change in lighting” was, for these experienced lawyers, quite disconcerting. Every lawsuit on which I have worked has involved two or more sides, with everyone involved thinking their side is the best, or winning, side and the other side is the worst, or losing, side. Stop for a minute to consider how absurd this is! It is impossible, logically speaking, for both sides to have the winning side and conversely, for both sides to be the losers. Someone must be wrong or at least, partially wrong; otherwise, things would have already resolved themselves. Moving outside one’s comfort zone, away from the cozy confines of “the war room,” and spending time with people who disagree with one’s point of view are wonderful ways to not develop a bad case of stage fright when the bright lights of the courtroom are turned on.