Monthly Archives: October 2014

Storytelling for Lawyers by Philip N. Meyer

Storytelling for Lawyers cover

A while back I quoted from popular fiction writer (and lawyer) David Baldacci that in the business of representing clients in court, the best story wins. Believing this to be so—it’s not the entire ball game, but it’s a big part of it—how do we tell the story most effectively? Here’s where Philip N. Meyer helps. Meyer, a law professor at the University of Vermont and Iowa Writers Workshop alum, has authored a book on this topic, and it’s worth reading if you are a lawyer who has to persuade judges and juries.

Meyer juxtaposes films (High Noon, for instance), fine nonfiction, and writings about narrative (academic and popular) to bring together his argument about the importance of storytelling (the less highfalutin word for narrative). While he draws on a number of different examples, the best sources are closing arguments made in two fascinating trials. The first is Gerry Spence’s closing in the Silkwood case and the other is a murder and racketeering trial that involved a Mafia foot soldier. In both instances, Meyer analyzes the structure and flow of the arguments as narratives that brings together an account in favor of the client. Spence’s closing weaves a story back in time (the events in question) and forward in time: the future is dependent on the jury’s decision. Spence’s argument merits this attention, as it reveals genuine rhetorical and narrative skill. (Don’t ever let Spence’s cowboy outfit and rough demeanor fool you: he’s a very sophisticated practitioner who blends deep learning with genuine street-wise knowledge.) The other example Meyer focuses upon is a closing by Connecticut attorney Jeremiah Donovan, who defended a low echelon mobster in a racketeering case. In that instance, Donovan’s client didn’t testify, so Donovan was able to testify for the client in closing (in a manner of speaking). Through deft use of narrative and simple visuals, Donavan portrayed his client’s actions—especially his otherwise damning taped conversations—in a light that allowed for a different understanding the literal meaning of the words argued by the prosecutor. As opposed to the story conveyed by the prosecution, Donovan delivered a back-story that countered the worst contention against his client (that he intended to murder his grandson’s father!).

In addition to deconstructing these two exemplary closing arguments, Meyer also examines appellate briefs alongside nonfiction narratives and Hollywood screenplays to display the array of tools and choices that the lawyer has in her toolbox to construct the client’s case. The examples are well chosen and well considered.

For me, the ultimate test of any book that makes recommendations about the practice of law is whether I can use the information it conveys now. This book proved an immediate help for me in working on an appellate brief. In drafting a statement of facts, I became much more keenly aware of the choices available to me. In addition, I became enthused about the craftsmanship that I needed to exercise to draft the most effective statement of facts, knowing that judges are inundated with long, boring recitations of facts in long, boring briefs. I don’t know that I’ll make to the promised land of the perfect brief, but now I have stronger sense of what it will read like.

 

A Review of Time Warrior: How to defeat procrastination, people-pleasing, self-doubt, over-commitment, broken promises and chaos by Steve Chandler

This review from my Taking Readings blog certainly applies to lawyers. In fact, it applies to just about everyone. I know that when I began practice–over 30 years ago!–time management became a more acute concern as the demands of multiple cases began to pile up quickly. I often felt overwhelmed. Chandler’s book, along with the Pressfield books I reference in the blog, address these issues from a most useful perspective. Not perfectly, but with the use of calendars  and processes, it should work to keep the wolves at bay. So, without further ado:

A Review of Time Warrior: How to defeat procrastination, people-pleasing, self-doubt, over-commitment, broken promises and chaos by Steve Chandler

  • by Stephen N. Greenleaf
  • Oct. 14, 2014
  • 7 min read
  • original

This book serves as a fine companion work to Steve Pressfield’s The War of Art and Do the Work!. While Chandler focuses on the familiar theme of “time management”, both he and Pressfield focus on getting things done (and not necessarily as David Allen would have you do it). This book is pithy and easy to read. It could be shorter, and it’s no literary giant. But the message is worthwhile. In fact, in tight, short sentences, Chandler packs somewallop. His style, in addition to his quotes, tends toward the aphoristic. Accordingly, what follows are my quotes of him, his sources, my aphoristic thoughts generated by his insights, and my meta-comments [in brackets]. (I capitalize some words on my own accord as key terms taken from or inspired by Chandler.)

 

  • Non-linear time management involves three options: Now, Not Now (but a date certain), & Never. [I think he should include a fourth: Now Later. For instance, one can use almost any Now to take out the garbage or do the dishes, but some Nows are better than others for productivity. Some tasks are Labor (Arendt), which is by nature  repetitive and doesn’t need special attention. Chandler implies that all Time is equally valuable, but this isn’t so. Some, like me for instance, prefer to perform more demanding, creative tasks in the morning, with less demanding tasks—dishes, reading & answering emails, garbage, etc.—left to the afternoon.]

 

  • Empty the Mind about the Future because the Future = Fear.
  • Develop a bias for Action
  • Develop a laser-like Focus like Bruce Lee or Rocky Marciano (via Joyce Carol Oats).
    Joyce Carol Joyce Carol OatsOats

    [Yes, you read that correctly. It seems she has a thing about boxing.]

  • Act as a Warrior, not as a Worrier.
  • Keep your Soul alive by not seeking to Please Others. Do what you choose
  • Make Time, don’t expect to Find Time.
  • Thinking makes it so. We act (or refrain) based on our beliefs.
  • Sustain Focus. Avoid Distraction. Use the rifle, not the shotgun.
  • “We use our crayons (our imagination) to scare ourselves instead of to create.” Chandler, Steve (2011-02-14). Time Warrior: How to defeat procrastination, people-pleasing, self-doubt, over-commitment, broken promises and chaos (p. 15). Maurice Bassett. Kindle Edition.
  • Use Process Goals, not big, long-term goals. [Compare Scott Adams of Dilbert fame: use Practices not Goals to create Future.]
  • “Be brief. Be swift. Be effective.” (19).
  • Create Now.
  • “Don’t think in terms of patterns. None of this: “I always” or “I never” because those globalizing thoughts will never serve you. They will scare you and make you a pessimist.” (22).
  • Start small.
  • Slow down.
  • Don’t over value Information. “[I]t is active creation that will produce wealth and well-being. Not information.” (27).
  • Create Value by serving others.
  • Incubation vs. Procrastination. Incubate but Act.
  • “No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.—Alan Watts (30).
    Alan WattsAlan Watts
  • The time warrior steals from the future. Then she pours her stolen gold—all of it—into the present moment.” (30).
  • Don’t Know, Choose. Choosing is the key to Acting.
  • “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost more than 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life… and that’s why I succeed—Michael Jordan (37).
    MJMichael Jordan
  • “It really isn’t fear of failure that stops us from trying exciting things. It’s fear of the appearance of failure. It’s the fear of looking like a failure.” (37).
  • Theory is good for the intellect, but action is good for the soul. It’s also good for your mental health, your physical health, and your pocketbook.—Robert Ringer (39).
  • Act, then Feel. Not vice versa.
  • Serve, don’t seek to Please.
  • Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.—Rumi (49). [I have to issue a small dissent here. My reading, especially in the morning (preferably after meditation) isn’t a passive act. It’s creative. I don’t just read, I Learn. For me, reading is a very creative activity. Besides, I don’t play a musical instrument & C would kill me if I started singing in the morning.]
  • Change Others through an Inspiring example.
  • Be in the Moment. Don’t cling to an Identity. I’m a . . . [fill in the blank]. You can be that—or more—or less.
  • The question isn’t, Who is going to let me; it’s Who is going to stop me?—Ayn Rand (57). [I haven’t “been Ayn Randed”, but I can’t argue too much with this one thing. See, I’m not going to cling to my identity as knowing her to be full of . . . “well, never mind”.]
  • Create, don’t React.
  • Issue is Problem Management, not Time Management. Deal with a Project or Challenge, not Time.
  • We love to solve problems—if they’re not ours.
  • Problems of Time are often problems of Emotion (Feelings).
  • Complete. Finish strong. Keep a “killer instinct”.
  • Unfinished Projects become Worries that become Energy Vampires!
  • Completion Creates Energy. Procrastination drains Energy.
  • Don’t Feel like doing It? Do It!
  • In the face of suffering, ask “How can I help?”, not “How to do I feel?”.
  • Not “How do I survive this [catastrophe]?”, but “How do I use this?”.
  • Warriors make friends of deadlines, which seem (and sound) so ominous.
  • “The human brain is a magical bio-computer. It sends us energy when we send it something clearly inspiring. But it drags us way down when we feed it something that is negative or depressing. The key to all of this is that we send it.” (88)
  • “The breakdown of language foretells the breakdown of results. Always. . . .[If I don’t keep a commitment] I have misused the word commitment, and language no longer means anything. So now anything I say is just noise that conveys no power at all. My language can no longer make anything happen. It can still be descriptive (it can tell you how I feel, it can describe the past) but it can no longer be generative (it can’t make things happen). . . . [A] commitment is something you keep, no matter what.” (90).
  • What gets measured gets done.
  • Emerson has written many wonderful essays on [acting] and one of the things he said is “Do the thing and you shall have the power.”(110)
  • “Creative people need some kind of structure. . . . Paradoxically, the best creativity comes from working with the most structure you can possibly impose on yourself.” (114).
  • “What do I feel like doing right now? That is the worst question I could ever ask myself during my workday. On a weekend that’s a fine question. “What do I feel like doing? I’ll watch a little baseball, I’ll play the guitar.” That’s fine, but in my workday, the feeling question is the worst question I can ask myself. The best questions are: “What do I want to produce?” and “What structure would guarantee that?”. (115).
  • Create your own Urgent.
  • Skip Willpower and simply Choose to Begin.
  • Begin—to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished.—Marcus Aurelius (121).
  • “Why do I want my lack of action to be about a “thing” inside me I don’t have? The answer is this: I would rather find and identify some defect in myself than take that first step. Isn’t that the easier, softer way to live? Identifying flaws and defects all day?” (122). [Pressfield names “the thing”: Resistance. But whether you name it to overcome it or you simple ignore it to overcome it, the only weapon that can work is Action. Do, do, do.]
  • “Whatever it is you are not doing, notice that you are choosing not to do it. There’s no defect in you! There’s the opposite of a defect. There is, instead, a power. A power to choose. Choose to, choose not to, same power. Always power.” (122-123). [My only quibble is that some people fail to recognize that they are making a choice (always making a choice) and therefore don’t exercise the conscientiousness or self-reflexivity necessary to realize what’s going on. I think that this requires a great deal of self-awareness. If not, why would Chandler have to teach this? Why would piles of books have ever been written about the Will and Willpower? (I know because I’ve read a lot of them.) Why would we worry about weakness of will? What if the choice is do or not do, such as whether to eat a Twinkie when you’re hungry? What if “not doing” is the best choice, then the default “Do” will fail us. We see weakness of will (akrasia) all of the time in ourselves and others. We discount the future hyperbolically. We make a choice—and we know damn well that we’ll later regret it. St. Paul and St. Augustine and others after them weren’t addressing a non-existent problem. So, grading as the Chinese might, I’d say Chandler is about 60% right on this issue.]
  • Love what you’re doing, whatever it is. [Can be challenging.]
  • “The perception you have of anything is always what drives your feelings and your actions and your thoughts.” (133).
  • Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.–Vincent van Gogh (141).
    Van GoghVan Gogh
  • Fear is the absence of Love, as dark is the absence of light.
  • “Live Now, Procrastinate Later”: great title (Robert Holden).
  • “I experience a stressed-out feeling whenever I think about the deadline for a creative project. But my stress comes from having that project be in the future. Non-linear time management doesn’t allow that line that stretches into the future. Because the linear thought process always produces stress. Unreasonable stress.” (175).
  • “You can create the future—through process-goal-setting and achievement—without living in the future. Just like studying a map before you go somewhere. Or looking at a menu before the meal. You don’t walk on the map. You don’t eat the menu. Once you’ve created your goal and project you set the future aside.” (182).
  • “All creativity emerges from inquiry.” (188).
  • “Thought always comes before a feeling and causes the feeling.” (196). [A key component of Stoic thought per Richard Sorabji.]
  • Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.—Walter Elliott The Spiritual Life (202).
  • Stop lying to yourself.
    AristotleAristotle
  • Aristotle: “Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it. People come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just. By doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled, and by doing brave acts we become brave.” (206-207).

 

Let’s stop here. Lots of excellent ideas and perspectives. A fine and lasting tonic.

Writing Potpourri #1

1. Writing guru Constance Hale shares a blog about slow writers and slow writing. I’m a slow writer (if you count multiple revisions), and the slow writing angle is interesting, although it’s probably not something busy lawyers and others would like to consider. But consider the benefits and intentions before casting the ideas aside.

2. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has just published a new book about writing,The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (2014). I haven’t read it yet, but we get a bit of a preview in this shorter piece on “Why Academics Stink at Writing“, which I fear rivals a lot of legal writing for the title of most boring and numbing. Read this critique of academic writing and apply it to your briefs, and you’ll become more persuasive. If nothing else, a judge will be more likely to read what you’ve written. 

3. This piece from Farnum Street is a portion of the transcript of a conversation between David Foster Wallace and legal writing guru Bryan Garner. The entire conversation becomes a book entitled Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace and Bryan A. Garner Talk Language & Writing.

Brain Pickings, Arthur Quiller-Couch, & Writing

First, if you don’t subscribe to Brain Pickings, you really should. Along with Farnum Street, it’s one of the best sources of informed thinking, art, and inspiration on the web. (In fact, its much better about the arts than Farnum Street.) Among other regular topics, writing is a frequent concern. In particular, this post recounts and quotes the work of early 20th century writing guru Arthur Quiller-Couch, author of the book On the Art of Writing. Read Brain Pickings blogger Maria Popova’s full account of this book, but allow me to quote just a bit from it now. This goes to the issue of persuasion and its role in life. Read these words carefully. Quiller-Couch writes:

Persuasiveness … embraces the whole — not only the qualities of propriety, perspicuity, accuracy … but many another, such as harmony, order, sublimity, beauty of diction; all in short that — writing being an art, not a science, and therefore so personal a thing — may be summed up under the word Charm. Who, at any rate, does not seek after Persuasion? It is the aim of all the arts and, I suppose, of all exposition of the sciences; nay, of all useful exchange of converse in our daily life. It is what Velasquez attempts in a picture, Euclid in a proposition, the Prime Minister at the Treasury box, the journalist in a leading article, our Vicar in his sermon. Persuasion, as Matthew Arnold once said, is the only true intellectual process. The mere cult of it occupied many of the best intellects of the ancients, such as Longinus and Quintilian, whose writings have been preserved to us just because they were prized. Nor can I imagine an earthly gift more covetable by you … than that of persuading your fellows to listen to your views and attend to what you have at heart.

If you’re a lawyer, or just an everyday advocate, you should head these words–no, you should drink  them into your very being. Whether in written or spoken form, what we do is a matter of persuasion, of seeking to guide change, and the more we come to master and expand the art of language, the better off we shall become in shaping the world around us. Take heed and govern yourselves accordingly.