Can you tell me about a time that doing things the TLC way changed the entire outcome of your case?
The one that sticks out in my mind is a murder case where a Marine Lieutenant was charged with killing Afghans in combat. In discovering the story we did somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 different re-enactments. Everything from the shooting itself to times in combat, to growing up with his parents, to reasons he joined the military, you name it – we would do re-enactment and discover the story. Through that entire extensive process (which lasted over a year), we really learned the story that we had to tell at trial and by discovering the story I learned the facts of the case extraordinarily well. I even brought in Don Clarkson for a day to work with my client to further discover the story. I figured out what story I needed to tell not just in the opening statement but throughout the trial and it gave me good practice for exactly how I was going to put things into action in court. So by the time I got to trial I knew the case so well I hardly ever used notes even during questioning witnesses. I knew the story I had to tell was not the story I heard when I first got the case and read the investigation and my first thoughts were “this is my defense”. It changed dramatically with discovering the story. It was a story about the people that were involved, the personalities, the relationships with each other enmeshed with the true story. I knew which scene we could portray in a variety of different ways so at trial in the opening statement I put into action by doing a first person opening statement on the prefect of my client. Through cross examination to the witness, having a witness demonstrate something on cross examination and most importantly when I had my client testify – he got off the stand three different times to demonstrate things that happened that led to these charges. I had the client get off the stand and demonstrate both of the shootings. I also had him get off the stand to demonstrate a conversation that he had with one of the main accusers. So when the jury went into deliberation, the version of facts that they remembered was the story that I showed them in action, so it was like they were watching a movie. I did just about every aspect of the trial the Trial Lawyers College way. The fact that I did so much discovering the story made the trial so much easier and I could concentrate on the story I was telling and not as much on objecting to witnesses and what questions and all the legal crap. It was a very difficult trial and my client was acquitted of all murder and assault charges. To the day I die I will believe that had I not done extensive discovery of the story my client would be sitting in Leavenworth the rest of his life. Instead he got a great job as an engineer in Georgia and is living with his family having a great life.
Do you ever have a client that you don’t discover the story with?
I try to do it with every single client. Sometimes I discover the story without using the client. For example, I had a client who had some mental health issues and trying to discover the story when someone is not of solid mental health is very difficult. So you have to discover the story other ways. You have to use your knowledge of the case and other attorneys to help discover the story. Even in that case, I try because the bang for the buck that you get out of this discovering the story is just so great; there is no reason not to try. Sometimes you have to learn to do it if someone is locked up in confinement and you are in a visitation room. I had to do discovery of the story over the telephone which is again much more difficult.
Would you say that discovering the story is the most important part of the process?
I do, by far I do. You are always learning the facts better and you are learning what story you need to tell. Oftentimes you’re learning what story NOT to tell and it is a way to test those things out instead of doing it in the courtroom for the first time.
Who do you have work with you on your cases?
I will use whoever I can. I use TLC grads in the area. I do a lot of military cases so when I do that I’m traveling. So often working with people who have never done this before so I’m constantly having to teach discovering the story not to the client or the witness I’m working with but I have to do it co-counsel and whoever else I bring into the room. So I’m sort of used to teaching it because most of the people I do it with have never done it before. To me it doesn’t matter as much, I will use whoever I can. I will use paralegals, friends who are not witnesses; I will put them into a drama. You name it. I rely pretty heavily on TLC folks who are in the area.
That’s incredible. Just a normal everyday practice you have developed, you are also practicing teaching it. Does that make it easier when you are doing a Regional like what’s coming up here?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s probably not an accident that I’m one of the faculty leaders for the Texas Regional which is just Discovering the Story. There are some people who know me for teaching because I also teach at Grad II and when we break up into groups I’m the one that always teaches Discovering the Story. It just kind of worked out that way. It is also my favorite to do and to me the most rewarding to do. What I want to do in trial more than anything else is to try to put things into action. I like to get witnesses off the witness stand and put things into action. For me, that’s fun and that is a big goal because I think it is such an effective way to communicate. So yeah, I get pretty excited about discovering the story because if I can put something into action in trial, to me, I’m really winning at that point. You can’t just do that off the fly you have to discover the story before you are able to do that.
What are you most excited about for this Regional?
I’m excited because it is focusing on nothing but discovering the story and how that will help shape your Opening Statement. It’s the ability to show people that this is not just some psychology tool that people find neat and fascinating. Once you do this you can see how it translates into real world what you are going to do in trial and that’s what makes me excited. When people realize that doing this can translate exactly what you do in the courtroom and when you see them make that connection – to me that is pretty exciting.
Do you see an impact that discovering the story has on the people you are working with who are not trial lawyers?
Absolutely, yeah. Once they get it and understand it. The first process is you have got to learn the tools. So you have to do the psychodrama, you have to learn the psychodramatic tools and then you start doing it with a case. It’s a very odd thing at first for people to do. Some people are very uneasy about it. Usually after we have done it a few times people start to realize how this is learning an aspect of the story. You learn details and discover the story that you could never get simply from talking to a witness or reading a report or reading a deposition. Things start coming to life and all of a sudden facts and feelings and relationships just start showing up like they never did before. Once that happens, people go “Holy cow this is unbelievable, I had no idea they get that kind of response”.
What was your first reaction to it when you first discovered Trial Lawyers College?
Well first, as you always do, you start out with personal psychodramas and I had no idea why we were doing it and I almost walked out. That was back in 2005 when I did my first Regional in Colorado. I did my own psychodrama and I said “okay this actually works”. When we moved into discovering the story and you are putting those methods from psychodrama into action all of a sudden it was like the light bulb came on going “holy cow this can help me prepare for a case”. That was when I started discovering the story and made the connection of why we are doing this crazy stuff and how it can relate to the cases that I’m doing. There are always some people who are very skeptical and uneasy and they don’t buy at first and it takes them a little while and I was one of those people.
Was it in the same Regional that you were able to see the value or did it take awhile?
Oh yes, that very Regional. I would say it started on… I think it was a Friday or a Thursday night. It was the next morning when it really hit. That first night was uneasy, unsure, it was something new and different that I still didn’t know how it had anything to do with my law practice and it was the following morning when we started discovering the story of our own cases that the light bulb went on, it was the very next day.
About Colby Vokey:
After retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Marine Corps, Colby attended the Trial Lawyers College in 2010 and is now an active member of it’s faculty team. His legal practice in Dallas involves both military and civilian criminal defense. He has handled some of the most publicized and notorious military cases, including the defense of the squad leader from the so-called Iraq War “Haditha Massacre” and the defense of accused terrorist and Guantanamo Bay teenager Omar Khadr at the Military Commissions.
Come join Colby and the rest of the TLC faculty team at theDiscovering the Story & Opening Statement Seminar in Texas, April 14-17! Only a few seats left — register NOW!
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