Credibility and Charisma for Criminal-Defense Lawyers
If jurors decide cases based on beliefs reached early in the case, how can we best affect their decisions?
Ideally we will show them two things before the evidence begins: A story, and credibility.
Maybe we’ll talk some other time about telling the story—what makes a good story, and how to tell it.
Credibility is something that we should be attentive to every moment of trial. Every action—ours, our clients’, our staff’s, friendly witnesses’—should maximize credibility. Nothing will sink a case faster than lead counsel losing credibility with the jury. For that reason, if you can be the one to show the jury why the prosecutor is not to be trusted you win twice.
I consider credibility to be the same as trust to be the same as likability to be the same as attractiveness to be the same as charisma. In in-person transactions, if you like somebody you trust them and if you trust them you like them and if they are attractive (as opposed to repulsive; not just physically) they have credibility and if they have charisma you like them, find them attractive, trust them and give them credibility.
So let’s talk charisma.
When we hear “charisma,” I think most of us think of an innate trait. I’m convinced that it isn’t so. Some people are inherently more charismatic than the rest of us, but all of us can increase our charisma.
A reader recommended to me “The Charisma Myth” by Olivia Fox Cabane. I’d make it required reading for all trial lawyers. ((In fact, for everyone who isn’t determined to live life as a recluse.)) Cabane says that charisma has three components:
Different people have these things in different mixes, but all of us can work to improve all three of them.
Power can be physical (get in better shape, dress better), financial (nice watch), intellectual (know your stuff), or other sorts, as long as the power doesn’t detract from warmth and presence. ((Some people confuse coldness or aloofness with the projection of power. Don’t. Rudeness is a weak man’s substitute for strength.))
Warmth is caring; you can’t fake warmth. You have to care about the jurors and you have to care about your client and the jurors have to see you doing both. ((If you are dealing with a difficult person, Cabane recommends that you envision him with angel wings to feel warmth toward him.))
Presence is being there. It’s mindfulness, being in the moment, being in the zone. It is giving your full attention to the thing you are doing and the people you are doing with. For a start, work on eye contact, open body language, and active listening.
As a bonus, all of these skills can be used in everyday life with normal people. If you work on improving your warmth and presence, your life will get better. ((Money-back guarantee.))
I have given a talk on this to lawyers, and I’ve given a version of it to nonlawyers. The nonlawyers eat it up. When I talk to lawyers, there are inevitably some ((Whatever I’m talking about, really.)) who take the time to come up to me afterwards and tell me that they “do all this stuff already” without studying it.
(A) It’s possible—I know some born trial lawyers who maximize their charisma instinctively;
(B) I highly doubt it—there are damn few of those; and
(C) Good for you; now go do more!
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