Lawyers Talking article Jan 2013 by Brian K. JohnsonBefore January passes, I will pass on a few reading suggestions from the current issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine.

The first recommendation is an article by an accomplished expert who is not a lawyer himself. Brian K. Johnson, an award-winning author, instructs readers on how to communicate best with others on topics that may be complex. Titled “Lawyers Talking, Fast and Slow,” his article opens:

“When conferring with a lawyer, my brain is focused on just one thing: Help me figure out this thorny issue! Whether talking to my trust lawyer about choosing an executor, or the real estate lawyer who advises me about my 94-year-old father’s 40 acres of farmland with the problematic deed, my goal is the same. Has my money been well spent on sound advice?”

“Your clients most certainly share a similar desire. They need you to explain—clearly—an arcane or troublesome legal issue, and they want you to provide counsel on a course of action. Once the issue is fully dissected and understood, you and your client can figure out how to proceed.”

“Of course, all of that is more challenging than you might think.”

You’re not joking. The author is adept at setting out some lessons you wish were common sense but often are not.

Continue reading Brian’s great article here.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Many fortunate Americans will find themselves at home today, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. That may also mean they’re not reading blogs, but that’s how it goes.

A few years ago, I started a small personal tradition on this day dedicated to MLK: I re-read his letter from a Birmingham Jail.

Sure, the rest of the day may be given over to relaxation and the enjoyment of being free from work. But for a short period—the time it takes to read his eloquent letter—I recall a sorry part of our nation’s history, and the response of a man and a movement.

The letter is sometimes still assigned in schools, and I think that’s great. King’s insights speak to us just as powerfully today as they did in 1963.

King’s courage is well documented. But what we sometimes forget—and what this letter reminds us—is that he had to be just as courageous with his “allies” as with his enemies. And that is what makes this letter such compelling reading for me. He wrote not (just) for a larger audience; instead, he wrote to fellow clergymen, many of whom were tsk-tsking his efforts to fight segregation.

Many of us can be loud and proud as we face a full-throated opponent. But how many have the courage and character to explain in loving and compassionate detail why our view should win the day? That was King’s task here, and his great achievement.

This speech is the origin of some famous phrases well known to Americans:

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

You can read the entire letter here. I encourage you to take the 15 or so minutes it will require. It’s a worthwhile reminder to all of us about our history and the personal and societal tasks that still stretch out before us.

Park Howell

Park Howell, always looking up.

I sure love a good story.

That’s why, back in November, I found myself sitting in a Phoenix conference room chatting with a small group of people about how best to interest others in our story and to persuade listeners or readers to act on our story.

The conference room was at the advertising firm Park & Co., and the workshop was nimbly led by the firm’s principal, Park Howell. (He blogs here; more on that in a bit.)

He is an adept storyteller himself, and he walked the group through the steps of crafting a tale that leads readers and viewers to a conclusion. In the workshop, he used a 68-year-old video to demonstrate that “the brain is helpless to the suction of story.”

Confused? Here is how Park Howell describes it:

“In 1944, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel created this animated film to test the brain’s compunction to create stories, even out of the most crude stimuli. Of the 114 people that watch this short film, 113 of them knitted together a story of what was happening, and only one said it was just shapes moving around a screen.”

That video and Park’s words struck a chord with me, and I think they would do the same with anyone who has ever argued to a jury. As jury consultant Dru Sherrod told us in a recent Arizona Attorney Magazine, “Jurors bring to the trial this whole lifetime of collected stored scripts. When jurors hear something in the trial that evokes a stored script, they immediately map that life experience onto the trial information.”

So we know on an intellectual level that “story model research” is correct when it instructs about the power of stories to persuade. But practice is what’s needed—and what Howell offered our small group.

park & co logoOn this Change of Venue Friday, I invite you to see more of the stories he spins in his own blog. Whether you are interested in sustainability, marketing or simply in stories well told, take a look. I’m suspecting you may opt to bookmark his insights or opt for the RSS feed.

A recent post of his reminded me that the use of the word “green” may be getting a bit green around the gills. What’s needed, he argues, are not mere catch-phrases, but “genuine stories of sustainability.” True enough, I think, for every industry, including law.

After reading that, head over to his firm’s “Backstories” page, where you can see a selection of the impressive work they have done for clients, many in the most sustainable of industries.

Have a great weekend.

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