As a criminal defense attorney, there is one question that friends and family ask me more than any other. It usually starts out something like this, “When you’re in court, do you act?” What they really seem to be asking is, “Can we trust you? We want to believe you. But you must be a skilled actor who can pull the wool over the eyes of a jury and who, therefore, can fool us.”
I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I was cynical at first about this idea of “truth in acting.” However, it didn’t take me very long to learn that I couldn’t have been more wrong. As the great Gerry Spence so eloquently states, “acting is revealing the truth of the character in the situation in which he finds himself.”
Let me explain what I mean. One night I was watching an interview of one of my favorite actors of all-time; none other than Harrison Ford. Harrison was asked, “What is the most important thing an actor needs to know?” “He needs to be real,” Harrison replied.
The interviewer shot back: “But he is only acting. How can he be real?”
“The actor has to become the person, feel the person – become who he is. He has to honestly portray the person he has become. If the actor isn’t honest, no one will believe the character he has become.”
Harrison was quick to point out that it is impossible for an actor to reveal the truth of the character he portrays unless he can tap into the truth of his own feelings – his “anger, joy, sorrow, and pain.”
In the runaway national bestseller, “How To Argue And Win Every Time,” the legendary Gerry Spence helps us to understand what is meant by the phrase, “getting in touch with the truth of our own emotions”:
“When we are moved to tears by a scene in a movie, it’s because the actor cried before we cried, cried out of his heart. The script did not have tears. The tears came out of the actor’s authority. He does not weep out of the sorrow of others, but out of his sorrow. He had never know his own sorrow, he could not have cried.”
Just like an actor has to get in touch with his own feelings in order to reveal the truth of the character he portrays, we as lawyers must open ourselves up to our own emotions in order to tell our clients’ stories.
As Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird” said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
So my fellow trial lawyers, we must take a page out of the playbook of Atticus Finch and “… crawl inside [our clients’ hides] and from that dark and frightening place shout to the world what we see.”
I won’t pretend to suggest that this is going to be easy. Indeed, it challenges even the most seasoned trial lawyers.
Whenever I get discouraged, I think of the famous quote by Gerry Spence: “The storming orator can be vanquished by one who stands before the jury and is wholly himself.”
Finding the courage to be yourself is not easy. However, it’s a courage we all possess. And if you can find it, you can uncover a hidden treasure: “the power of credibility that permits you to argue, to be heard, and to win!”