listening

84 – John Sloan – Experienced Listening

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with renowned trial lawyer John Sloan. They dig into the vast experience John has acquired in his 40-year career as a trial lawyer, focusing on how he got where he is today, using role reversal techniques to better understand both clients and defendants, and his jury verdict on what he calls his “favorite case ever.”

Michael and John start the episode with a look at where John started and how he became successful. He shares how his boss right out of law school told him to figure everything out for himself, something that was tough at the time (especially when he announced ready for a murder trial just 5 weeks after being sworn in!) but instilled in him a work ethic which has served him well. He continued to learn all he could from other prominent lawyers in town and work countless weekends until he built his skillset up enough to focus on personal injury cases. When it comes down to it, John insists there is no substitute to putting in the hard work of learning both your case and trial skills.

The pair continues this note with some advice for young lawyers who want to get in the courtroom. While John concedes that it’s harder to try cases than when he started, he insists the opportunities are out there if you’re willing to work for them. Michael agrees and adds that young lawyers need to be willing to “pay their dues” by trying some not-so-great cases before getting to try awesome cases. He and John then discuss how they cope with losing at trial, and even highlight a shocking benefit of taking cases to trial even if you lose them.

Michael then moves on to ask John about how he uses role reversal techniques to get to know his clients on a deeper level. It comes down to really taking the time to get to know your client, instead of just asking them questions to elicit facts about the case. It not only makes the attorney-client relationship more meaningful, but it also helps the lawyer be a better advocate for the client. John then elaborates why you don’t need to do a full-day psychodrama to use these techniques. You need to learn the skills first, but you and your staff can use role reversal techniques with your clients in everyday conversations.

Among those techniques is something John calls “listening with a 3rd ear,” which he describes as listening for the story beneath the words being spoken. It’s the emotional content of what you’re hearing from the client, whether it’s actually stated or not. Michael shares when he does this, he makes a point to check in with the client and confirm it’s actually representative of how they’re feeling. John agrees and adds some more interesting strategies for building this connection with your clients.

Michael then shifts gears to the defendant- can you use these role reversal techniques with the people on the other side of the case? John says, “Absolutely.” He explains how he likes to do this introspectively before a deposition. What would they say to their lawyer that they would never say to you? Then, frame the questions you ask around that. Michael tries to approach the defendant (especially the defendant driver) from a place of understanding, which allows the jury to get mad at the defendant company in their own time.

After a brief but insightful conversation about the importance of treating each of your cases as individuals, John and Michael discuss the power of saying no to cases which don’t suit you. John reflects on when he first started his own firm and would take any case just to bring some money in. To this day, that mentality has made saying no to a good case tough for him. But he and Michael agree there comes a point in your career where you need to prioritize your time.

If you’ve listened to Trial Lawyer Nation, you know Michael loves a good trial story; and John’s jury verdict in Tampa, Florida couldn’t be left undiscussed. Between being able to try the case with his nephew, the low-ball offer the defense made right before trial, and the client being one of the most genuine and hard-working people John had ever met, this trial story will resonate with every trial lawyer listening.  John says it was one of those trials where “everything just went right,” and the result is an inspiring way to end the episode.

If you’d like to learn more from John Sloan or contact him about a case, visit his website or give him a call at (800) 730-0099.

This podcast episode also covers why sharing information benefits everybody, the importance of training your staff to use role reversal techniques with clients, how to frame the defendant driver as a victim of the company, disciplining yourself to say no to cases, and so much more.

 

Guest Bio:

As a boy growing up in Henderson, John Sloan thought he might become a preacher some day. However, by the time he began his undergraduate studies at Baylor University, John made up his mind: He was going to be a trial lawyer.

John received his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Baylor in 1977 and enrolled at Baylor Law School, where he began to hone his trial skills in the school’s renowned Practice Court.

He earned his J.D. in 1980 and returned to East Texas, joining a firm in Henderson.  John immediately began trying cases, including a murder trial just five weeks after he received his law license.

Two-and-a-half years after he started work at the law firm, John decided that he wanted to focus on personal injury cases. He moved to Longview and opened his own practice. He has been trying cases in East Texas and courts across the country ever since.

At the time he established Sloan Law Firm, John says, he wanted to create a law firm that would provide exceptional personal service to its clients.

“I wanted us to not be a mill where people are just numbers and don’t have a lot of contact with the lawyers,” he says. “I wanted to be able to know my clients personally.”

In addition to offering clients a personal touch, John also provides zealous advocacy. He has achieved several significant verdicts and settlements for his clients. His cases generally involve truck and auto accidents, defective products, and oilfield accidents. He also focuses on brain injury cases.

While courtroom victories are satisfying, John finds that his practice provides many other rewards.

“I like the people I get to work with—the clients—and I like the people here in the office. I like the variety. I like the competition, the battle, the mental gymnastics, being able to outwit and outwork my opponents,” John says.

John’s commitment to the trial lawyer profession has extended to the prestigious Trial Lawyers College. John attended the College in 1998 and joined the teaching staff in 2002. He was named to the Board of Directors in 2010 and as President in 2014.

John also engages in community service. For several years, he served on the Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity. He has also worked with Justice for Children, which provides pro bono legal advocacy for criminally abused children. He has coached kids in just about every sport.

In his personal time, John enjoys being active and has participated in numerous triathlons. His primary interest is his small farm outside Longview, where he grows trees and unwinds from his busy law practice.  He is married to the former Dee Anne Allen from Tyler, Texas, and they have two children, Trey Sloan and Veronika Sloan.

 

39 – Sari de la Motte – What we Tell Jurors Without Saying a Word

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with presentation coach, speaker, and trial consultant, Sari de la Motte, for a conversation on nonverbal communication. With two advanced degrees in music, and having started out initially teaching teachers how to get better results in their classrooms, Sari has transitioned her skills to working 100% with trial attorneys on how to present and work with juries.

Sari began her journey while attending school for her Master’s Degree in Music, when her professor told her she needed to go to a training on nonverbal communication to help her become a better teacher. She attended with the mindset that she was going to learn about how to read people’s nonverbal cues and make up stories about what they are communicating. Little did she realize the focus would be on herself and how she communicated nonverbally, and how she could increase her presence and charisma. And she was hooked! The trainer was Michael Grinder, a master of, and world renown expert in, the power of influence — the science of non-verbal communication, non-verbal leadership, group dynamics, advanced relationship building skills and presentation skills. She was so intrigued, she looked him up, and followed him around the country, paying her own expenses along the way for upwards of 9 months to observe and take notes on what he was presenting. After which she pivoted completely from music to nonverbal communication.

Both music and nonverbal communication are the two universal languages. She explains, you don’t need training in music to enjoy it and the same goes for nonverbal communication in order to understand it, i.e., you don’t need to be trained to know when your spouse is upset. But, if you want to perform music or you want to be systematic in how you communicate nonverbally, then you certainly need to become trained in those areas.

In the beginning, Sari started training teachers in schools on how to communicate using nonverbal techniques until the recession hit and she realized schools had less and less money to use. That’s when she adapted her trainings for the corporate world. Little did she know that when the Oregonian did a story on her, she would receive a call from a lawyer asking her to come help pick a jury the next week. She also wasn’t sure on how she would be helping but once she was in the courtroom, she again was hooked and knew it was a great fit for her.

Michael wonders how Sari learned how to take what she knew about nonverbal communication and apply it to what lawyers do. Sari shares a story about how the original lawyer wanted her to come to the courtroom, watch the jury pool’s body language and tell him who to keep on and who to kick off. Ironically, she found that as much as she kept watching the jury, to which there is no scientific evidence to back up the ability to read body language as its own language to make judgements about people, her attention kept coming back to the lawyer himself. She soon realized, the biggest opportunity to help this lawyer was to in fact, help him with his own nonverbal communication in how he was interacting with the jury. Thankfully he was open to her feedback and wanted to know everything he could from her. Sari goes on to point out that all the nonverbal skills she teaches, whether teaching teachers, the corporate world, or to lawyers, are all the same skills. It’s just the context that changes. And once she learned the context lawyers operate in, how to apply those skills, and met a lawyer who was able to look at himself instead of focusing on what the jury was doing, she truly fell in love with the work trial lawyers do. Michael points out the irony of “how many times we’re doing something with our hands, a facial expression, other body language, or even our tone of voice, and we don’t even know it. And we’re giving off a message that is the opposite of the words we’re saying.” Sari not only agrees, but also points to research that shows “if there is a mismatch between what you are saying and what you’re communicating nonverbally, the listener will go with the nonverbal message every single time.” She continues by pointing out those awkward times lawyers are videotaped, watch it back, and are absolutely horrified by what they see; not so much in regards to the superficial things like hair being out of place or our weight, but rather because we have no idea about all the weird things we’re doing nonverbally.

Early on, at the beginning of her career, Sari was approached to speak to The Inner Circle, a group of the top 100 plaintiff attorneys in the United States, and statistically notes after 15 years, she has found that it is always the best lawyers that show up on her doorstep. Michael and Sari discuss “winning in the courtroom” and how some overstate its importance and talk through what they see as a better way to define winning. Furthermore, Sari points to what is in your circle of concern versus your circle of influence, a mindset which stems from The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey, and further proves her point about the definition of winning.

Talking about Sari’s podcast From Hostage to Hero (also the name of her upcoming book), Michael is curious about where the name came from. She recalls needing to learn the context of how to apply her skills to the courtroom and finding the best way to do so being to read all the books lawyers were reading, attending CLEs, watching DVDs, etc. And she found that after helping to pick several hundreds of juries and having read all kinds materials, there was something missing from the conversations … the idea of jurors being hostages. No one was really talking about the elephant in the room, where jurors don’t even want to be there in the first place, and they’re forced to do it anyway. So, she set out to fix this “communication dilemma” and understand how we get jurors to want to participate and realizing the hero role they truly play in the end. In other words, we’re asking jurors to take action for some person who they don’t know, with something they think doesn’t benefit themselves at all. “We’re asking them to be heroes, but when they first come into the courtroom,” Sari reveals, “they’re hostages.”

Sari discusses the levels of engagement lawyers go through with jurors on their journey through a trial: creating a safe environment; engaging them with you and the material, AKA voir dire; commitment, and be willing to listen to your opening statements; and finally, taking action at the end. Whereas, lawyers have a tendency to jump all the way to the end before systematically moving them through the other levels of the interaction. Or, as Sari describes it “that’s like going to our coffee date, talking for two minutes, and then getting down on one knee and asking the person to marry us.”  Sari continues to discuss each level in detail, including: understanding the 3 components of any message (content, delivery, reception) and using your breathing as a way to create safety. Then she discusses listening to understand vs. listening to talk and how to elevate people’s status by listening, along with the different levels of listening. And lastly, empowering jurors to make a decision and take action.

Listeners might think a podcast episode about nonverbal communication could potentially leave people feeling like they’re missing out on what’s to see, but Michael’s conversation with Sari couldn’t be more engaging and relatable with their descriptiveness. The episode rounds out with several other topics such as: understanding the S.C.A.R.F. model (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) and how it relates to juries; how to turn a jury from an unformed group to a functioning faction; how to introduce jurors to each other using just your eyes; issues vs. relationships; the two buckets EVERY communication fits into and how knowing which one you are presenting can give you permission from a juror; things that lawyers do that hurt their cases; and so much more. This is absolutely an episode every lawyer who speaks or moves in the courtroom needs to listen to.

 

BACKGROUND

Sari de la Motte is a nationally recognized presentation coach, speaker, and trial consultant. She has trained extensively with an internationally recognized authority in nonverbal communication and is an expert in nonverbal intelligence.

Sari speaks to audiences of a few dozen people to audiences of over a thousand. A sought-after keynote speaker, Sari is often asked to headline conferences across the United States. Sari also works with high-profile speakers in her Portland office, helping them to hone their messaging and fine-tune their nonverbal delivery.

Sari has spoken for, and works with, several members of the Inner Circle of Advocates, an invitation-only group consisting of the top 100 trial attorneys in the United States. She’s a featured columnist for Oregon Trial Lawyer’s Magazine, Sidebar, and has also written for Washington State Association of Justice, Oregon Criminal Defense Attorney, and other legal publications. She provides CLE’s for various state association of justices around the country. Because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves, she has been dubbed “The Attorney Whisperer.”

“For more information on Sari de la Motte you can visit http://www.saridlm.com/

 

RESOURCES

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

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