Discover the real story jurors need to hear
OBSTACLE: Judging your client’s pain as an impenetrable wall that prevents you from going the distance into discovering their hidden story.
OPPORTUNITY: Discovering the real story jurors need to hear. There’s always something going on behind the mask of pain that allows you to tap into a deeper sense of truth where real humor and living levity also thrive.
ACT #1: Saved By The Bell
When I was 16 years old, I was cast as Nasty Neil the Hall Monitor on the popular TV show “Saved By The Bell.” I got that part because I came across as an unlikable character with my Vinny Barbarino haircut, leather jacket, and high-waisted jeans. (It was the early 90’s after all.)
“Get to class,” “You’re a creep,” and “No running in the hallways” we’re some of my more memorable lines. In the episode called “Screech’s Birthday,” I square-off with one of the main characters, “Screech,” who wants his old job as Hall Monitor back. Unfortunately for me, he turns into Robo Screech and ends up disintegrating my character on the hallway stairs with his laser gun. Apparently, the studio heads at NBC had considered Nasty Neil as a regular but then decided against it… and so… a premeditated ending for Nasty Neil.
ACT #2: Nearly 28 years later at Loonees Comedy Corner in Colorado Springs
Some friends invited my wife and I to see Screech, who’s headlining as the featured comedian. I’m genuinely excited, as I haven’t seen that guy since our days on “Saved by the Bell.” Sadly, it was painful to watch “that guy.” We were all primed and ready to laugh our way through his set, but all we saw was an abysmally sad rendition of the sorry clown. Had I read the news and reviews going around about Screech, I might have had a clue what I was walking into. Like many child acting stars, the path to adulthood had been a pretty rocky road for Screech.
Besides the fact the he was simply NOT funny, he was also crude in a way that pushed the audience away from him and created distance between them instead of inviting them in. “If anyone out there calls me Screech I will seriously jump down off this stage and skull fuck you. I’m just kidding… actually I’m not. Hey!” he spewed at the audience, “Let’s play ‘who took the last shit!'”
He was the guy at the end of the bar who you’re pretending isn’t there.
At one point, he even jumped off the stage, weaving in and out of the seats pointing fingers at obviously put-off patrons doing all they could to try and be invisible. “Lets pretend we’re all dogs and see whose asshole smells the worst! Ooohhh… (to a young woman just walking into the club with a drink in her hand.)” What’s your name, honey? Shelia? Raise your hands if you think Shelia just took a dump? I bet she did. Right?? Am I right???” By now we’re all painfully looking for the Exit.
The guys dying up there. Doing all he can to attempt a bad version of Howard Stern or Lenny Bruce, he just comes off gross and disgusting. The fart and shit jokes continue. He throws in a few fuck-you’s to attempt to be edgy. Tough. Howard Stern shock jock time.
Holy shit, put this guy out of his misery.
Finally he ends his set as most of the people in the room evacuate the scene of the crime as quickly as possible. Screech stands in a corner of the lobby, waiting to sell his CD’s and sign autographs. He’s still wearing his angry countenance as sweat pours off his face and soaks his shirt. Nobody comes near him to buy anything or get their picture taken with him. No friends to shake his hand or give him the atta-boys I’m sure he craves.
In spite of every bone in my body wanting to grab my wife and run out the door, I walk over to him.
“Hey, man. You tried to kill me.” His eyes spear dart into mine. “What’s that?”
I repeat, “Yeh, you tried to kill me on Saved by the Bell when you were Screech. I was Nasty Neil. The Hall Monitor?”
Something in his face softens. In that instant, he’s taken back in time, almost 30 years ago when we were teenagers. Long before Saved By The Bell: The College Years. Back to the very first season of Saved By The Bell when we walked around the NBC lot together and he showed me Johnny Carson’s legendary set. Suddenly he breaks into this huge smile.
“Oh my God, dude! I remember you! How are you??!”
He’s no longer that freakazoid shit-talking guy on a kamikaze run at the audience. “Hey, do you guys want to hang out? Grab some beers? Catch up?” I try to be as gracious as possible as I tell him that we have a commitment and thank him for the invite. “Well, cool, man… okay… thanks for coming out…”
We leave him alone, waiting to sell CD’s and sign autographs, but no one is buying. At least not this night. It’s like leaving a little boy behind.
ACT #3: Denver, Colorado – Narrative Therapy with “Lessons From The Stage”
MEN’S GROUP COMPRISED OF ROUGHLY 20 RECOVERING DRUG ADDICTS GATHERED IN A LARGE ROOM
“Hey,” one of the guys shouts out to me. He’s laughing. “Weren’t you on Saved by the Bell?”
“Yep, you got me.”
The guys are practically jumping out of their seats pounding my back, shaking my hand. Apparently, most of them are big Saved by the Bell fans and I’m more than fine with it. As long as it helps create a more trusting environment for the guys to open up and share their stories of pain in the group. That’s what it takes to find a new place in their lives where they’re not slaves to their painful past stories. If it’s gets them there, then I’m more than happy to be Nasty Neil The Hall monitor to them.
During the guys’ regular smoke break, Terry, a crater-faced, skeletal giant of a guy lumbers over to me. He knows a lot about Screech. Knows about how he got himself in a whole mess of trouble on a slew of charges—two misdemeanors back in Port Washington, Wisconsin around three years ago from stabbing a guy in a bar. He knows all this because he served jail time with him.
Terry hugs his long arms to his chest. “Yeh,” he continues. “He’d be cool for awhile, but if you really had a death wish, man, and had this need to see if he really would go for your jugular, then just call him Screech. I’m not kidding.”
Listening to Terry talk about his cell-mate, I remembered a saying one of the guys had shared with the group: “Hurting people hurt people…” I also remembered how I cared about Screech after that torturous set, even though I didn’t want to stick around and hang out with him.
Litigators need to understand that plaintiffs are always in pain.
If they weren’t, there would be no reason to get a lawyer. I would venture to say most people’s pain is off-putting even if you know where it’s coming from. The trick is to find the real person buried under the pain. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
While working on a recent case, I shared this story with a plaintiff who had a serious case of off-putting anger. The trial team was afraid of him bringing that discrediting rage into the courtroom. He loved the story of Screech though and I think he got the point of the story.
“Where are you beneath this pain?” I asked. “That’s what I want to find out with you if you’re willing to go down this road with me…”
For attorneys, there’s massive value in looking deeper into the story.
It’s worth it. It’s always worth it, because there’s always something going on behind the mask of pain. Go the distance and discover the real story. Never be afraid to get real with your clients who are in emotional or physical pain. Find whatever you can—whatever examples you can find in your life or in the lives of others–to inspire them to remove their mask of pain and let you in on the real person hidden behind those seemingly impenetrable walls.
That’s the kind of story jurors need to hear: a human story with humor and levity that will form a connection between them and your client so they can understand the deeper sense of truth required to justify their verdict.
I’d love to discuss working with you and your team on your next case. Please feel free to give me a call. Among the pre-trial and jury trial consulting that I share, here are other ways to benefit from Lessons From The Stage:
- Law Firm CLE Customized Workshops
- Executive Silver/ Gold/ Platinum Coaching Programs
- Monthly CLE Accredited Workshops