The Secret Sauce for Courtroom Victory

The past few weeks of sports have delivered some incredible highs and lows.

Like millions of other fans, I stayed awake into the early morning hours, captivated by the cliffhanger ending of Game 7.

Harry Caray calls Game 7

(I’m not crying… You’re crying!)

I guess I’ve been a Cubs fan since I was a little kid.

We lived near McHenry, Illinois and my dad loaded up the van with all of the neighborhood kids to take us to Wrigley Field.

I still remember walking into the stadium and experiencing everything for the first time.

The sights, the smells, the excitement leading up to the game… It was a great memory.

It was the first baseball stadium I’d ever been in, the first major sporting event I’d ever been to, and I loved it.

I fell in love with baseball.

My parents were even cool enough (and patient enough) to take me to a Dairy Queen near Chicago where we waited in line for HOURS so I could get Dave Kingman’s autograph. (Keep in mind, this was back around 1979, when he made the All-Star team and was the NL home run leader – he was a rock-star and a living legend!)

Yup, I loved baseball.

But then, something odd happened.

In 1994, they cancelled the World Series because the players went on strike.

They turned their back on me (and millions of other fans), so I turned my back on them.

Other than going with my family to see a game in Yankee Stadium before they moved into their new stadium (my dad and my brothers have been Yankees fans their entire lives, so it was a great experience), I doubt I’ve watched even a dozen games (including Wednesday’s World Series finale) in the past twenty years.

It makes me sad to write that, because I used to care so much about baseball.

But once trust is broken, it’s almost impossible to regain it.

Compare baseball’s level of trust to the level of trust created by the person in the next sporting story.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum, in September we heard the sad news that golfing legend Arnold Palmer had passed away.

Arnold Palmer was a legend.

My interest in golf started when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, after we moved to Florida. We lived near Palm Beach Gardens ("The Golf Capital of the World"), so I saved my allowance, bought a starter set (only 5 clubs: 9W, 7W, 5W, D, Putter!) and got the chance to join my dad on some of the best golf courses in the country.

The lucky thing about living near the PGA Championship Course is that I had the opportunity to see some of the best golfers in the world. I saw the 1983 Ryder Cup, and I got to walk the course following golf legends like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Gary Player.

But Arnold Palmer was different.

When Palmer was playing, you could tell at an instant which hole was at, because there were more crowds following him than any of the other players.

They called it "Arnie’s Army."

It didn’t matter whether he was leading or trailing…

He always had a crowd.

That’s because people loved him.

In one chance encounter, I quickly found out why.

I was probably 11 years old, and watching the players warm up at the driving range. As they finished up and walked out the practice area, I would ask for autographs. This was before celebrity "selfies," and almost everyone was kind enough to sign my little autograph book.

As one of the players finished, I asked him for an autograph.

He brushed me off.

And it wasn’t just a brush offf… It was rude enough that other people took notice.

One of the people who noticed was a fellow player on the practice tee.

From behind me, I heard a kind voice say, "I wouldn’t mind signing your autograph book, if you’d like."

When I turned around, it was Arnold Palmer.

THE Arnold Palmer!

I was awestruck.

He was bigger than life, and when he signed my autograph book, he made me feel like the most important person on the planet.

That entire encounter probably took all of 15 seconds, but it’s been indelibly etched in my mind for these past 30+ years.

But there’s nothing unique about that experience. I bet he probably had encounters like that every day of his life, touching people in some small way, making them feel important and special.

That’s why he had "Arnie’s Army" and that why he was so celebrated.

That’s why the other golfer, despite his fame and his skill, never enjoyed the types of crowds or the legacy that Palmer did.

(There’s no need to mention the other golfer’s name, but don’t worry, it wasn’t any of the ones I’ve mentioned in this article.)

The Trial Lawyer Lesson

If you’re still reading, you’re probably going, "Those are nice stories, but so what? Where’s the tip that helps me become a better trial lawyer?"

Here it is:

To win the jury, you must earn (and keep) their trust.

Your ability to persuade jurors never relies solely upon your courtroom skills.

You can practice your opening statements, examinations, and closing arguments until you’ve honed them to a fine edge.

You can work with your witnesses until they have the oratory skills of Cicero.

But if jurors don’t trust you, or if they don’t trust your witness, you won’t win.

(Remember Aristotle and the ol’ logos, pathos, and ethos trilogy?!?)

At the beginning, jurors don’t trust you…

Other lawyers don’t trust you…

Even your own client might not trust you.

Trust can be difficult to earn, but if you are the type of person who is trustworthy, if you’re the type of person who radiates character, then you can earn their trust.

You can’t fake it – you’re either trustworthy, or you’re not.

(Think about that for awhile… If you’re not happy with your answer, you might want to change a few things in your life).

But even if you’re trustworthy, and even if you earn the jurors’ trust, you will lose it in an instant with a misrepresentation or a stupid mistake, so be careful with what you say and mindful of how you say it.

Be honest, be trustworthy, and keep the jurors’s trust. That’s the secret sauce to persuasion.

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