We lawyers, we love details.
That’s why we became lawyers. That’s why we decided to spend our best years in the library indulging ourselves in details of legislation, pampering with the nuances of legal interpretations. We only feel safe when we know everything. We live off details.
We load our submissions with huge amount of the smallest details. We believe that as we are so fond of details, so must the reader be. We believe that an arbitrator who receives our three-hundred-page submission relaxes with a glass of wine on Friday night enjoying of our literary art.
And surprisingly the counsel on the other side shares the same beliefs. At the hearing, the arbitrators have thousands of pages of submissions and exhibits, and in the midst of all the details, they lose the thread already on page 3.
In the opening speech we are then given the opportunity to simplify the matter, but we will roll out even more details. So easily we forget, what is important, and what we are actually doing. Over and over again, we miss the opportunity to tell a story that leaves a mark. A story that is simple enough to be irresistible.
As a litigator, complexity is your enemy. Anybody can make things complicated. It’s much harder to keep it simple. Simple story is much easier to sell, manage, and understand. To everybody.
Have you ever noticed the gestures of top conductors? They are very simple, and every move matters. According to Jorma Panula, the famous Finnish professor of conducting, the first task of a conductor is not to disturb the orchestra.
The same applies to the litigator. In the courtroom, full of counsels, judges, arbitrators, party representatives, you are as a conductor. It’s a live broadcasting, and your job is to persuade the audience. Don’t disturb them with complexity. Don’t fall them into sleep. Keep them awake. Look at the situation from their perspective, and give them what they need to issue the only right decision. Your every move must be clear and unambiguous, every word meaningful so that they can nothing but to follow you.
Simplification is an art. In chaos of thousands of interesting details, it takes time to make it concise. But it is absolutely necessary if you want to ensure your success in the legal proceedings. You have to make trade-offs, kill your darlings, simplify the most essential. The grandma test tells you whether or not your grandma understands your story. There may be a grandma arbitrating the case. The elevator test shows you whether you can explain your case in 30 seconds to a stranger. If you fail either of these tests, you have to keep on working.
Lawyers persuade by telling stories. The story is always true, because it’s based on facts and evidence. But not on all the facts and evidence. In the worst-case scenario, you gave them everything, but they didn’t understand anything, because you gave them everything. Keep your story simple.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, as Leonardo da Vinci once put it. And therefore, Mona-Lisa is still smiling.