Storytelling for Lawyers

We have all read about the importance of telling a good story as part of any trial strategy, whether in an opening statement or a closing argument, but what about in our own personal marketing or when promoting our law firm? Yes, you have the 60 second elevator speech that you can use, but what about a story that informs others about what you can do for your clients or what your law firm is capable of doing for its clients?

I recently read a Wall Street Journal article by Susan Credle, global chief creative officer for FCB, one of the largest advertising agency networks. In the article, Credle says “data and technology dominate the conversations.”  There is creativity but it is often formulaic. Credle laments the absence of “bright moments when someone creates a piece of work that captures our imaginations and our hearts.” Credle’s theory is that the advertising industry has “forgotten that first and foremost we need to be storytellers.” She says the best in their industry are “relentless storytellers” whose brands are purpose-driven and whose stories are authentic.  The story is told and retold, over and over again, in “new, surprising and creative ways.” As Credle notes, this storytelling is an investment, and with each new investment, “the brand becomes more valuable.”

Credle encourages others to seize the opportunity, even the responsibility, “to create famous, lasting brand stories.” She asks if we are dreaming big enough, if we are walking away from what could be some legendary stories. Credle concludes “It is about a relentless and lasting commitment to a brand’s story, and the elation of waking up every day with an opportunity to help write the next chapter.”

Credle’s premise is that our stories create the most valuable brands. Have you thought about what stories you can tell? Can you write a story about your practice that is memorable and effective? I have been inspired by Susan Credle’s emphasis on storytelling. So, I am going to work on some of my stories. I think I will start with the story of how I decided to become a lawyer.

Until next time . . . .

The Power Of Your Voice

I recently received a phone call from an old friend, long since retired. He just wanted to catch up on things. He did not send me a letter through the mail. He did not send me an email over the Internet or a text. It was a real live phone call. It was so good to hear his voice. I cannot tell you how much that call meant to me.

Perhaps we should remember the power of our voice. The next time you need to communicate with a client, pick up the phone! It makes a difference. The next time you need to address a difficult issue with opposing counsel, don’t start off by sending them an email. Use your voice! My friend set an example for us. Do you have someone who needs to hear your voice? What about the next time you need to deal with a sensitive issue in your law office? It is so easy and convenient to fire off an email.  Instead, get out of your chair and walk down the hall to do it in person. Not only are you using your voice, but you have added the power of your presence.

Remember the power of your voice.

The Good Lawyer

I have often heard clients say “We do not hire law firms; we hire lawyers!”  So, who do they hire?  They tend to hire someone they like and trust, and who knows their business like the back of their hand.  But beyond that, what makes a “good lawyer?”

I recently attended a meeting with an insurer with whom our firm has a relationship.   A number of areas were covered, including the relationship between the insurer, outside counsel and insureds; the importance of compliance with litigation guidelines; the company’s claims handling philosophy; and the importance of timely communication with both the insurer and insured. Then, we heard from a claims officer who had recently read some wisdom on what makes a “good lawyer.”  She shared the article with us; it provided some useful reminders (although the original author and publication are unknown). If you know who first penned these words, let us know!

The Good Lawyer

  1. Is always honest and truthful.
  2. Listens to the client.
  3. Knows who the client is, remembers who the client is, only represents the client, and does not surprise the client.
  4. Communicates with the client.
  5. Is the messenger, not the message.
  6. Is willing to tell the client or prospective client that the law sometimes does not offer a remedy to every particular problem.
  7. Explains everything to the client in terms that the client can understand.
  8. Has a positive attitude, but does not promise success.
  9. Always honors the attorney-client privilege.
  10. Is always alert for potential conflicts of interest and investigates and resolves all potential conflicts before undertaking any representation.
  11. Becomes knowledgeable about the applicable law and facts with regard to the client’s case.
  12. Maintains their objectivity about their client’s case.
  13. Never underestimates an opponent and never embarrasses anyone.
  14. Treats everyone with the respect and dignity that the lawyer expects to be treated.
  15. Strives for excellence. Excellence with humility in the representation of the client.
  16. Is diligent, persistent and relentless in the pursuit of representing their client.
  17. Adheres to the highest professional and ethical standards.
  18. Is proud of being a good lawyer and how they serve each of their clients.

In response, please share your own thoughts on what makes a good lawyer.


Pro Golfer Jordan Spieth – Grace And Dignity In Defeat

I have been following The Masters since I was a kid. The first time I attended in person was in 1973 when Georgia native Tommy Aaron won. Over the years since then, there have been many Sunday back nine collapses. This year, Jordan Spieth hit two balls in the water on #12, ending with a quadruple bogey. While he made a rally with two birdies, he ended up losing to Danny Willett. The difference between Spieth’s defeat and the other recent collapses is that Spieth already owns the Green Jacket that goes to the winner.

In 1979, journeyman pro, Ed Sneed, had a 5-shot lead to start the day and a three-stroke lead with three holes to play. He bogied all three, landing in a playoff with Tom Watson and Fuzzy Zoeller, who ended up winning. In 1985, Curtis Strange had a three-shot lead when he came to the 13th hole. His aggressive approach ended up in Rae’s Creek.  He then dumped his approach into the water on #15 and lost by two strokes to Bernard Langer.

Then you have Greg Norman. In 1986, Norman came to the last hole needing only a par to tie Jack Nicklaus. He flared his approach shot wide right, bogeying the hole and losing by one. The very next year, he was in a sudden death payoff with Augusta native Larry Mize, safely on the 11th green with his second shot. Mize hit his approach shot wide right, missing the green, and leaving a treacherous downhill 140 foot chip.  You know the rest of the story; he holed the impossible shot and broke Norman’s heart.  Fast forward to 1996. Norman held a commanding 6-shot lead going into the final round, only to shoot 78 and lose to Nick Faldo, who shot a closing 67. Then in 2011, Rory McIlroy had a 4-shot lead entering the final round before a triple bogey on #10. He then four-putted #12, shooting a final round 80 to lose to Charl Schwartzel, who birdied four straight holes to win.

All of these gentlemen showed grace and dignity in losing what many golfers consider the Holy Grail. This year, as the defending champion, Spieth had the duty of placing the Green Jacket on the winner – twice. They did it once in Butler Cabin for the TV audience, and then again in an outdoor ceremony. Spieth was bitterly disappointed, obviously hurting, but he showed uncommon maturity in both instances and especially in answering every last question from the reporters after his round. He was both honest and forthcoming in his answers. He should be remembered for the way he handled defeat – with grace and dignity.

Greenville, South Carolina Hosts Southeastern Symposium On Mental Health

The Southeastern Symposium on Mental Health will be held in Greenville, South Carolina on May 5-7, 2016. GWB shareholder Stuart Mauney will be presenting at the Symposium on “Occupational Hazard:  When Doctors or Lawyers Get Depressed.” Stuart is a long time mental health advocate and frequent speaker on mental health issues in the legal profession. He presented at the Mid-Year Meeting of the International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC) in Pebble Beach, California, on February 22, 2016. He was also featured on a panel for a nationwide ABA suicide prevention webinar on March 21, 2016.

The goal of the Symposium is to promote awareness about mental health issues, reduce stigma and discrimination, and inform public policy. Keynote speakers include actress and mental health advocate Mariel Hemingway at a dinner on May 6, and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy at a luncheon on May 7.  Kennedy is the author of a recent book, A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.

You can find out more information about the Symposium, and for registration at

Road Rage And Conflict Resolution

When was the last time someone cut you off with a quick lane change on the Interstate? Did you curse them or give them the “finger”? Maybe someone dashed into that prime parking spot just ahead of you. Or, that sports car was tailing you just a little too closely, so you tap on your brakes? Chances are none of these incidents resulted in death or even physical violence. However, recent events remind us that road rage remains a serious problem on our highways.

Former NFL Football player, Will Smith, who won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints, was recently shot and killed in an apparent road rage incident in New Orleans. In its article on Smith, USA Today reported that this was our country’s third high profile road rage incident in less than a week. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data tells us that road rage or aggressive driving were reported as a factor in 375 fatal crashes that resulted in 418 deaths in 2014.  A recent survey by the AAA “found 87% of respondents said they believed aggressive drivers were a ‘somewhat’ or ‘very serious’ threat to their personal safety.”

It sounds like we all need to refer back to our basic driver training courses. However, some have suggested that solving the road rage problem has more to do with psychology than driving skills. Jeff Asher, a crime data consultant, was quoted in the USA Today article as saying, “It’s about conflict resolution. It starts in childhood, with education. Teaching people to resolve their conflicts peacefully.”

Asher makes a good point. Perhaps our schools could do a better job of educating our kids about conflict resolution. Perhaps our churches could do a better job of reminding us that “blessed are the peacemakers.” Perhaps each of us could individually do a better job of keeping the peace, both in our personal lives and while driving on our highways. The next time you get cut off in traffic, perhaps the best advice is to count to ten and move along.

Lessons in Trial Advocacy from Donald Trump

What can Donald Trump teach us about being better trial lawyers?  Thomas Friedman, in a recent New York Times column, commented that “The voters listen through their stomachs.  If a leader can connect with them on a gut level, their response is: ‘Don’t bother me with the details.  I trust your instincts.’”

Reading Friedman’s column reminded me that jurors also listen with their stomach, or gut. I am remembering the things my law school trial advocacy professor, the late Steve Morrison, might have said: Be prepared. Keep it simple. Do not over-promise. Personalize your client. Tell a story. Ask the jury for what you want. In the end, whatever you do, make a connection, so that their gut tells them that you can be trusted.

Friedman also said Trump “has already gone places no candidate ever has . . . .” As Friedman further noted, Trump may ultimately go too far and “sever his gut connection with voters.” Another good reminder for jury trials: Don’t go too far. Know when to stop.

Thank you, Donald Trump, for teaching us how to be better trial lawyers.

ABA Free CLE Webinar on Suicide Prevention

The ABA Free CLE Series will present a webinar on suicide prevention on March 21, 2016. Participants are eligible for 1.5 hours ethics / mental health / substance abuse CLE credit. The program will provide education on how to recognize the warning signs of suicide, and effective ways to help those who may be at risk for suicide. Participants will also hear personal stories from lawyers in recovery from depression and other mental illnesses.

The CDC has reported that suicide was the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in 2013.  There were over 40,000 suicides in 2013 in the United States, at a rate of 1 every 13 minutes. Suicide results in an estimated $51 billion dollars in combined medical and work loss costs. An estimated 9.3 million adults reported having suicidal thoughts in the past year. The percentage of adults having serious thoughts about suicide was highest among adults aged 18 – 25.

We have previously reported on how lawyers are particularly vulnerable to depression and suicide. Almost a third of lawyers suffer from depression. Left untreated, depression can lead to suicide. We can prevent suicide among lawyers by learning to recognize the signs of someone at risk, taking those signs seriously, and knowing how to respond to them.

Our very own Stuart Mauney will be participating as a panelist. Stuart is a mental health advocate and volunteer with the South Carolina Lawyers Helping Lawyers Program.  He is a former member of the ABA Advisory Committee for the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs.  Other panelists include Kate Bender, Programming Director with The Dave Nee Foundation, in New York, and Lynn Garson, a lawyer with Baker Hosteltler in Atlanta, Georgia. The moderator will be Terry Harrell, the Executive Director of the Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program.

Please join us for this important free CLE.

Abnormal Use at the IADC Midyear Meeting

Our very own Stuart Mauney will be speaking at the IADC Midyear Meeting in Pebble Beach, California, this coming Monday, February 22. Stuart’s presentation is entitled “Taking Action: Recognizing & Responding to Depression, Suicide & Substance Abuse in the Legal Profession.” He will be talking about some of the data on lawyer mental health and substance abuse from a recently published study, sponsored by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. This study was published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, Jan./Feb. 2016.

As you may know from his past posts here at Abnormal Use, Stuart is a mental health advocate and frequent speaker on lawyer mental health. We have asked him to provide further information on this landmark study in a future blog post.

Blogger’s Block (A Blog About Nothing)

Our editor has reminded me that it’s time for me to submit a blog post. So, here it is.

I could write about unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones. There has been a good bit of discussion lately about the potential regulatory scheme for drones,  liability for negligent operation of drones, and product liability claims against drone manufacturers. But that would require some research, and I am not inclined to do that just now.

I could provide my nuanced political analysis on the first Democratic presidential debate, but I am confident our editor does not want me to go in that direction.  (Hint:  Ms. Clinton was the clear winner; Senator Sanders was his usual cantankerous self.)

What about religion? I could write about the role of religion in our political system with some GOP presidential candidates relying so heavily on evangelical support for their candidacies. But that would be a double-whammy taboo for the Abnormal Use blog.

What about this? I have been invited to speak to the Greenville County Dental Society about depression and suicide among that profession. According to the CDC, they have the highest per capita suicide rate among all professions. I have no idea why, but if our readers wish to offer any thoughts, I’m listening.

Alas, I suffer from a social media malady known as Blogger’s Block. Catch you next time!