trial lawyer

How to Use the Obstacle to Your Advantage: Re-Wiring Your Brain Around The Pain

When you’re facing the jury, you’re a storyteller whether you like it or not. The question is, how good is that story? Is it dead or alive?

Have you ever told a scary story around a campfire? What’s the thing you gotta have there more than the sound of your voice, fancy word choices, great characters, and the twists and turns of plot?

You gotta have conflict. There has to be an obstacle.

Think about the moment when you describe the strange sound coming down the hallway. You wish to God you never had to hear that sound… You wish you could say you were only dreaming. But you aren’t. And on top of it, you’re in the house alone. Do you get out of your bed to go check it out? Do you stay hiding under the covers as the strange sound intensifies?

Let’s talk about the value of conflict in the trial. Where does it show up? Right there, in jury selection. Right there in voir dire. From the very start, we’ve got a problem to solve.

It begins the moment you get out of your chair and introduce yourself and you’re going to have to figure out how to solve it together, with the jury.

I want you, the storyteller, to see the value in the obstacle, see it as a tool, the key, your greatest asset, and to use it to magnify “the scene” (within your opening, closing, or cross examination) to help deliver your peak performance to your audience, the jury. When you can see the value in the obstacle, you are giving permission to your emotions to deliver the words to your audience in a moving and manageable way. In other words, we become masters of our emotions rather than slaves to them when we recognize how important the obstacle is.

When we become masters of our emotions, we have the ability to surprise ourselves in the story we’ve rehearsed and are still able to use our emotions creatively, strategically and authentically, not unlike a painter working with paint, or a composer selecting the perfect pairing of musical notes to communicate his feelings and vision of the world… music, after all, is nothing more than communication through rhythm, harmony, and melody.

There’s  an enormous difference between telling the story artfully, with true fascination, rather than with blunt rage, irritation, arrogance, or boredom.

Each of us has already or will come to the crossroads of fear and love. That crossroad in our life is where rich drama resides. We may not recognize it as such, but this crossroad is where Academy Awards are won. A great example of this is the dilemma Atticus Finch faces in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Atticus Finch stands at the crossroads when Tom Robinson, charged with the rape of a white woman, enters his life. One road puts him with the white townsfolk who oppose his representation of Tom and eliminates the coming threats to Atticus and his family. The other road is to take an unpopular client with no money who is charged with committing a heinous crime.

Atticus must make a decision whether to: 1) defend Tom Robinson and risk everything, or 2) walk away and drop the case. Atticus makes the choice that puts him all in, risking everything for the sake of truth and justice. There is a loud voice inside Atticus – saying, “You must tell the truth. Tom Robinson is innocent. That truth is worth everything.”

Conflict, whether Atticus’, or our professional or personal conflicts, puts us in the forge and either makes us or breaks us.

Conflicts present great opportunities that we can either strive to eliminate or embrace. Almost without fail, when we embrace conflict, it fashions our character and molds us into who we are. We may never reach the “place” we desire in the “road less traveled.” But the journey is infinitely more important than the destination. Atticus Finch ultimately lost the case, but he gained the steadfast love and respect of his children, and taught them a lesson of personal integrity that they will carry on for a lifetime.

Within the character’s struggles and our struggles toward “the perfect place,” we may realize that in our searching and digging there is something vastly greater waiting inside us, another story, a greater story that makes life challenging and interesting.

The question is the same one posed to Neo in the Matrix,

“How far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go?”

How deep inside yourself will you look to find out what you stand for? How will you grow from conflict and opposition?

The author wishes to give special thanks to Steven Young for the helpful edits.


Working With You And Your Team

I’d love to discuss working with you and your team on your next case. Please feel free to give me a call. Among the pre-trial and jury trial consulting that I share, here are other ways to benefit from Tell The Winning Story:

  • Law Firm CLE Customized Workshops
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