Friday, July 18, 2014

Mandela's Lessons for Lawyers

July 18, we celebrated Nelson Mandela Day. In 1964, Mandela was one of eight leaders of the African National Congress convicted on four broad charges and sentenced to life in prison. He served 27 years before his release and later election as South Africa's president. Despite the court system's mistreatment of Mandela, he resolved to be positive. He challenged everyone to change things for the good. In honor of Nelson Mandela, here are some quotations from which lawyers can learn lessons about law and trials:

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." – Nelson Mandela

Through education, we became lawyers. Many of us come from families that were financially challenged. Education was a stepping stone for us to enter a profession that gives us the potential not only to create great wealth, but more so a profession where one person can change the course of history.

My father, who was not an attorney, told me stories of his friend, Edgar Denny. Edgar was my scout master, and an attorney. He represented three former employees of US Steel. US Steel had fired the three shortly before they were to retire, and denied them their retirement benefits. When it was time for trial, US Steel flew a cadre of attorneys from the east coast "to teach that country boy a lesson." My father would pause in telling the story, because he could not say it without laughing, "Edgar not only kicked their asses all over the courtroom, he kicked their asses all the way to the airport." Education is the most powerful weapon we have to change the world, if only in the life of one person, our client.

"The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." – Nelson Mandela

Some allow fear to prevent them from stepping into what Gerry Spence calls "the killing pit." He told me once, "A court room is a fearful place. Nothing pleasant happens here. I have never heard a symphony in a courtroom. Children don’t play here. Flowers don’t grow here. Birds don’t sing. Butterflies never flitter in a courtroom, there are no windows, the sun does not shine. Only misery, pain, suffering, death, and anguish come here. Why do you think the judge wears black?"

But there is magic in fear. It is by fear that we know we care and are alive. If we did not care, there would be no hesitation – it would not matter to us. It is by loving our client, caring what happens to them, that we become alive.

Early in my career, fear crippled me -- because I allowed it. Now I use it to assure myself I am doing the right thing. I walk to it, wrap my arms around it, and acknowledge it. In doing so, I 
know, and you can too, that I care. That assurance can lift us to great things.


"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination." – Nelson Mandela

Being smart about what you do is as important as caring and embracing your fear. I call it "being in the moment." Anger leads to poor decisions. It happens frequently; I saw it again today. The court ruled in my favor on a law and motion matter. That presented a calendaring issue for the other side concerning trial. I offered two solutions. Opposing counsel was so angry about the ruling that her response was an attack on me. The judge, recognizing what was going on, said, "Fine. Motion granted. Counsel you don’t have to accept the accommodations Mr. Young offered you. Trial date to remain."

The attorney let emotion prevent her from making a decision the client needed. Her ego interfered with her client’s best interests. Let your heart give you passion, let your head be the governor to express the passion at the right time, and in the right manner.

"There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living." – Nelson Mandela

"Imagine" is very powerful word when used to begin a story. When we use it with a jury they are transported into the tale of our client’s story. We can accomplish the same in our professional lives. We can "imagine" ourselves slaying dragons. When we see ourselves doing so, it becomes our reality.

Your dragon may be taking on an unbeatable opponent, handling the unwinable case, facing an angry judge, caring for the unlovable client. Aspire to be great. Aspire to live the life you are capable of living. You will be great if you resolve that nothing will stand in the way of your greatness coming through. Go to trial. Take a chance. Follow your dreams.


I am developing a webinar series on a unique method I have developed for conducting jury selection. It facilitates conversation with jurors. I intend to make this a 6-session webinar and go in depth on how to become powerful at voir dire.

You can help me develop these programs and assure that I cover every important issue. Please send an email to with your questions about jury selection.

If you me to notify you when the webinars will go live, send me an email with your name and a request for notice.

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