Winning Despite Yourself
In this post about Gerry Spence’s defense of Geoffrey Fieger (well, it’s not really about that; it’s about the egos of Gerry Spence [who boasts he’s never lost a criminal case] and Geoffrey Fieger . . . or maybe all criticism is autobiographical and it’s not really about that either . . .), my New York brother Scott Greenfield wrote:
Bear in mind that Gerry Spence was the lawyer who represented Imelda Marcos, the steward of all footwear, in the Southern District of New York. After the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, one was asked whether it was because of Gery Spence. The response was it was despite Gerry Spence. Ouch.
Call me crazy, but I don’t feel Scott’s pain. I’ve had prosecutors opine that juries acquitted my clients despite me; I would love to hear that from all of my juries.
Obviously, I would much rather have a client acquitted despite me than have a client convicted despite me. In the list of all possible things a jury could say after reaching a verdict in a criminal case, one of the least painful would be “we acquitted him despite his lawyer.” The only contender for the title of “least painful” is “we acquitted him because of his lawyer”, and I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer to hear “despite” instead of “because of” as justification for an acquittal. Here’s why: jurors lie about their verdicts. If you want to be lied to, talk to a jury about its verdict.
Even if they were inclined to be entirely truthful after a verdict, jurors would be a lousy source of information on the reason for their verdict. Because they are the object of the lawyering, jurors are unable to accurately assess the effect of good lawyering on them. Jurors make their decisions mostly based on their guts; then they try to rationalize and justify what they’ve decided. Nobody wants to be tricked into making a decision by some slick lawyer; generally jurors would rather believe that they did what they did despite the lawyering, because it was just the right thing to do. Jurors would like to believe that the lawyers just got in the way of their discovery of the truth (clients who owe money like to believe the same thing).
Generally, the better the lawyering, the less obvious. Perry Mason moments are rare; great lawyering is more often than not transparent, with the lawyer stepping backstage and letting the story tell itself. Ideally, the trial lawyer will give the jury what it wants: the illusion that he is not influencing them.
Beyond transparency, there is lawyering that is so fine that it is not only transparent, but transcendent — lawyering so subtle that it appears to the uninitiated (including the jury) that the lawyer is screwing things up. I don’t claim to know what Gerry Spence was doing in the Marcos case, but I know that whatever he was doing worked. And in the end, that’s what matters.
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