AKRON LAW SPRING 2011
Law Lessons: Dana Cole (TLC Staff and 1995 Graduate)
Associate Professor of Law
I had planned to go to graduate school in psychology, but then I met a great lawyer named Ron Schultz. Ron told me stories about his cases. Oddly, the story that had the greatest impact on me was a story about a case he lost. As he spoke, tears filled his eyes. He obviously cared about his client and he worried she wouldnt get the help she needed. Ron was a masterful storyteller and he was obviously proud of his profession. I thought how wonderful it must be to feel so passionately about your career and the people you represent. I took the LSAT, applied to law school and was accepted but I was very intimidated by the thought of law school. Two weeks before classes started, I withdrew and once again turned my attention to graduate school in psychology. The following year Ron gave me a book titled Gunning For Justice by Gerry Spence. After I read Mr. Spences book, I was convinced that I wanted to be a trial lawyer. One year later I was in law school. It was a good decision. I honestly believe being a lawyer is the greatest thing you can do with your life.
How can I represent someone I know is guilty?
It has been my experience that everybody is redeemable. I havent had a client yet who I didnt find compelling in some way even loveable. I also found that many of my clients are overcharged. In other words they may have done something wrong, but they are charged with more serious crimes than their conduct warrants. Sometimes people just need a second chance. In my career I have represented several utterly innocent people. The bigger issue for me has been the pressure of representing an innocent person charged with a serious crime. The stakes are so high. Frankly, I prefer to represent the guilty and to try to walk them out of harms way, but I will certainly take an innocent clients case. A friend of mine has this slogan on her web site: For the wrongly accused and even if you did it. Criminal defense lawyers are a special breed and public defenders are the heroes of the profession. I dont expect everybody to understand it.
Before I met Gerry Spence and went to his Trial Lawyers College, I went into the courtroom and put on the mantle of lawyer. I hid my fears and nervousness from the jury. I presented my clients and my witnesses as pristine, perfect people. Mr. Spence taught me that the jury can see through our phoniness that its far more effective to be sincere and transparent with them. You cant expect jurors to trust you if you dont first trust them. I cant really present my true self to the jury unless I know myself so theres a great deal of introspection involved in the program at the Trial Lawyers College. In my Trial Advocacy classes I try to teach my students to bring more of themselves to the surface to let the jurors see who they are. We try to get rid of the lawyerly language to be real, accessible human beings.
There are parallels between the classroom and the courtroom. In fact, I think that the right metaphor for trial lawyers is teacher. Trial lawyers are referred to as advocates, storytellers, champions and salesmen. All of these concepts are useful and serve to explain different aspects of what we do as trial lawyers. But the metaphor that is most prominent is that the trial lawyer is a warrior which literally means one who wages war. The warrior metaphor is valuable in the right context and I am not suggesting we abandon it. But if we see ourselves primarily as warriors when we are in trial, we will not have the appropriate mindset to develop a trusting relationship with jurors. Jurors dont really respond to people who are mean-spirited or oppositional for the sake of being oppositional. I dont want jurors to see me as a combatant. Jurors are looking for the truth. It is far better if they see me as a guide. The warrior mentality will cause us to think and act in ways that will likely interfere with establishing a good rapport with jurors. Our goal will be to attack rather than educate, defend rather than reveal, protect rather than trust. We have the right attitude in trial if we envision ourselves principally as caring teachers.