Making the Complicated Simple
By David C. Sarnaki
"Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity."
You might remember trial lawyer/professor/trial consultant Christopher Ritter. He’s the author of another best-selling ABA book, Creating Winning Trial Strategies and Graphics. That manual for persuasive presentations and exhibits helped attorneys make complex facts easier to understand and, in turn, made attorneys more persuasive. Here, in Powerful Deliberations, Ritter continues his work in the area of persuasion at trial, focusing on how your client’s version of the facts can become “the truth” as selected by the trier-of-fact.
Ritter combines psychology and trial advocacy into a useable guide for building the persuasive case. He walks us through the concepts and the steps for implementing those concepts in our case preparations. All along, he presents charts and graphics to aid our understanding and promote the use of such tools in our presentations.
While Ritter’s discussions center on jurors, his case preparation lessons are equally applicable to bench trials. For example, Ritter explains five different paths that can be taken to arrive at the same verdict: emotion, checklist, science, fairness, and common sense. He shows how we need to relate something new to what is already known by using the toeholds of analogies, stories and visual devices. Ritter explains the process of mental mining and the benefits of working from the inside-out (i.e., from the core of the case to the underlying structure for that core). His lessons enhance the ability of a neutral fact finder to become an advocate for your client, seeing the case from your client’s perspective and carrying that perspective to verdict. That is the point of all your efforts and the goal for your client’s outcome.
Ritter states one of his basic themes in his preface: identify your base and treat them right. “Your case will undoubtedly benefit—and you will be better able to treat your base right—if you understand what the jurors need and the way things work during deliberations in the jury room.” He is not promoting pandering. He is suggesting targeted efforts to hit what really matters from a variety of different positions.
Powerful Deliberations shows us how the trier-of-fact uses both resources and processing or mechanics. The resources begin with the personal schema of attitudes, values and experiences living within the trier-of-fact and flow to the “Four Inputs” crafted by the attorney: the factual strand (case theory combining facts, law, moral authority and explanation of motives), the persuasive tools (making facts real and understandable), the operating instructions (defining what is legally important and how to process the evidence) and the arguments (synthesizing the facts and making sense of the story).
The trier-of-fact's processing combines portions of the competing trial stories with the personal schema. Since we each begin in different places (i.e., with different schemas), there can be different paths to the same result. Ritter explains how jurors determine the ”ultimate reality,” from the formation of coalitions within a jury to the influence of active jurors and to the eventual dominance of one coalition.
As trial attorneys, we need to provide tools of persuasion to the trier-of-fact, and a variety of tools is much more effective than just one. Ritter wants you to find the right tools, some of which provide guidance on and connection to core values and others which educate on core details of the case. He advocates using multiple tools, instructing us ”to convey a single message in a variety of ways, using an array of Persuasion Tools.” Regardless of the tool, his touchstones are: using common language, connecting to familiar concepts, being memorable, and creating a buzz.
In his final chapter, Ritter presents his five-step process for trial persuasion and explains methods for:
1. Developing understanding
2. Mental mining
3. Simplifying the case
4. Emphasizing what really matters
5. Enhancing persuasion through technology
Powerful Deliberations is one of those books which inspires you to really think about process and to explore all the tools that are available to you. Too often, we follow the same routine of case preparations, moving through the calendar without much creativity. Ritter will motivate you, encourage you, and challenge you. Ritter provides a blueprint for a persuasive process and moves you close to building something special. In his 200 pages, he includes nearly 90 illustrations. While these visual devices help us understand Ritter’s points, they also serve as powerful examples of the type of work created by his consulting business, The Focal Point, and of the types of exhibits you might develop for your next trial. If you enjoyed reading Creating Winning Trial Strategies and Graphics, you’ll enjoy this sequel. You will think more clearly about theory, strategy and methods, and you’ll yearn for simplicity. You hope to shape the outcome for your client. You have only limited control. Why not make the most of your time and effort by using Ritter’s trial-tested resources and process for showing that your client’s version is ”the truth”?
G. Christopher Ritter, Powerful Deliberations: Putting It All Together For the Jury (American Bar Association, 2009) $199.95.
David C. Sarnacki practicesfamily law, mediation and collaborative divorce in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is a past Chairperson of three State Bar Sections: Family Law, Litigation and Law Practice Management Section. He is listed in Best Lawyers in America.
This article appeared in the Spring 2010 Michigan State Bar Newsletter.
Appeared in The Michigan State Bar Litigation Newsletter
May 10, 2010