What about the debacle of the university presidents’ testimonies before Congress last week? What were they thinking? In other circumstances, I would have pointed out proudly that all three university presidents were women. Yay for progress but muted by their testimonies.
There’s a lesson (or more than one) for us lawyers in last week’s Congressional sh-tshow. We need to understand our audiences, whether they be juries, legislators, or anyone else. A prestigious law firm prepared the witnesses for their testimonies in these hearings. They didn’t need lawyers, they needed public relations people and crisis managers who could help them craft those testimonies in the best possible light for their audience. As a New York Times article pointed out, these presidents were prepped as if testifying as a deposition or in court and not for a public forum. They needed experts of a different sort. I am not the only one who thought that was not the way to go.
We are not the smartest peeps in the room about everything. Contrary to popular or unpopular belief, lawyers don’t know it all or how to do it all, which is why we turn to, or should turn to, other professionals, experts, who know their businesses better than we do. It’s the height of hubris to think otherwise.
Know your audience. This audience was not interested in legal hair-splitting or parsing. Some answers could have been short and simple if they had been prepared to answer in that way. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. I certainly wasn’t in the room where the preparation occurred. Intricacies and conflicts in policies are one thing, but that was not what the legislators wanted to hear. Were the speakers sandbagged in a “gotcha” game? Maybe, maybe not, but full-throated decisive answers would have been the way to go.
What’s the point of semantic wrangling? Sometimes people just need to be forthright. (An example of not doing so initially is then President Clinton’s denial in his deposition that he had had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. Google if you’re too young to remember [sigh] the salient facts.)
The moral of the story, at least to me, is to know your audience, read the room. What may be perfectly appropriate in one setting can sink like a stone in another. A little human compassion, a little human emotion on the part of the witnesses, might have gone a long way toward viewing them sympathetically in what was a touchy situation, replete with repercussions. Was it a situation of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t?” You tell me, but my lingering impression is that they acted like robots, like automata, devoid of any human touch. Doing the legally correct thing is not always the right thing, at least in the public sphere. Context anyone?
Sometimes I can’t believe what I read, even in ATL. Some stories surely must be the work of an overimaginative mind, right? Stephen Miller, who unfortunately hails from SoCal (I know, stifle the comments, please) now is trumpeting a loony-tunes theory about Taylor Swift. It would be hilarious (and in a way it is) if it weren’t so scary. Of course, the idea of Miller (and not just him, how about Michael Flynn?) in a second Trump administration is enough to drive us all bat-sh-t crazy, just like Lloyd Bridges in the “Airplane” movie.
Whatever has happened to common sense? Where has that gone? Should that be tested on the bar exam? (I know, Stephen Miller is not a lawyer.) How would that affect passage rates? Just asking.
Just one example of a lawyer who has no common sense, but apparently stockpiles Pringles cans. Two years ago, this pissed-off lawyer threw a poop-filled can of Pringles (I will never, ever buy those) into the parking lot of a county crime victim advocacy center. The Ohio Supreme Court has suspended the lawyer for one year with six months stayed.
According to the story in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the attorney — I am not making this up — had a habit of pooping into Pringles cans. I wonder if he had a favorite type that he used. His defense was that he routinely pooped in the cans and randomly threw them from his car. He claimed that he pranked with Pringles at least 10 times in 2021. the height of the pandemic. That was a tough time for all of us, but really?
Perhaps he can ask Santa for some common sense, while I will save the “Bottoms Up” phrase for New Year’s Eve.
And wanting to end on a happier note, how about congratulating the youngest newly minted lawyer here in California? I’m hoping that he has some life experience before he starts representing clients.
How much common sense did you have at 17? Many attorneys who have practiced for decades still lack common sense. You can be the smartest attorney out there, but still not have it. (See above.)
Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at email@example.com.