Attorneys, particularly trial lawyers, are paid to talk. Most of my clients are excellent talkers/speakers. Psychologists, on the other hand, are paid to listen, to observe, and to notice things other people often do not notice. There are other differences between these two very different professions and the types of people who are drawn to them, but for the purpose of this post, I will limit the comparison to talking versus silently observing. When I am conducting a mock trial, focus group, or other research for my clients, all of whom are attorneys, we spend a lot of time together. Some of the time we spend together involves observing mock jurors, or arbitrators, or mediators discuss case facts after listening to the attorneys’ presentations. There are other times when we are in a waiting mode, for example, when we are waiting for our research participants to arrive. During these periods of “down time,” most of my clients talk among themselves about various topics, often, forgetting I am sitting with them, listening to what is being said. Sometimes, the end client, that is, the actual plaintiff or defendant, attends the research, to observe his/her lawyer and obtain a preview of how people feel about the case. It was during one of these times I observed the plaintiff, a wealthy widow who was suing a law firm in a legal malpractice case, appear overly friendly, even intimate, with her accountant, who was a key witness in her lawsuit. Although the plaintiff’s attorneys and I were present, the plaintiff and her accountant behaved as if they were on a date. They consumed several Margaritas, gazed into each other’s eyes, and drank from each other’s glasses, in full view of everyone who was present. These simple actions revealed to me they were more to each other than client and accountant. The next day, I called the plaintiff’s attorney, for whom I was working, and asked how long the plaintiff and her accountant (who was married to another woman) had been having an affair. The attorney reacted to my question with shock, because in all the years he had been working on the case with his client and her accountant, he had never suspected their affair. I suggested that he tactfully find a way to inquire about their relationship, due to the fact it had paramount importance to the case as a whole. Within a few days, he called to tell me my three favorite words, “You are right!” and that he had settled the case to avoid any problems at trial. To me, a psychologist, there is much to be learned by listening and watching, while other people are saying and doing.
I don’t think I have been present during any of the scenarios Melissa has recounted in this series of posts, but I have heard about them 2nd hand, from her, and in some instances, others on our team. But, it is not just that these observations were made, or experiences endured; it is amazing that things like this happen, in the open, in plain sight of others. Melissa’s observational skills are sharp and when she recounted the scenario about the client and witness having an affair, I knew it would prove true. It makes me wonder though, what were they thinking?! Did they not think anyone would figure it out? Did they not realize it was going to be a problem if discovered? Regardless of the morality, how their affair would impact the plaintiff’s own case should have been a concern. They were somewhat discrete, but, not enough. And, as in many of our cases, what if the other side put a private investigator on the job? It was most fortunate that their affair was discovered before it exploded and devastated the case, and the plaintiff’s attorney. It is hard to fault the attorney for not noticing, but certainly, paying attention to such details is critical. Thinking about what one is seeing is important in many environments. If one is not sure “what is going on”, find out before it blows up in one’s face! We have often told our client attorneys to investigate their clients, and to make sure they are telling the truth. That does not end with case intake, but throughout the pendency of the case, and after. It pays to be observant!
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