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Friday, November 23, 2012

Random Thoughts from a McDonald's

Dear Colleagues,

It's a chilly Friday afternoon in Champaign, Illinois. I just drove my son Joe and five of his Carterville High School football teammates nearly four hours north to watch the state championship football game at Memorial Stadium. They aren't playing in the game this year, but they plan to be here next year. This year they were one of the top 8 teams in the state, but they endured a heartbreaking loss in the quarterfinals two weeks ago when a string of fluke injuries took out their all-state quarterback/punter and all three of his backups. They were ahead by two touchdowns going into the fourth quarter and watched it all slip away as each injury took its toll on their offense. Seven-yard punts and fumbled snap exchanges between the center and quarterback can have a remarkably detrimental impact on a team!

Their trip today is interesting to me. They wanted to be here so they could experience the atmosphere of a state championship game, visualize themselves playing in the game, and use that as an incentive to return next year. They are scouting potential opponents as well: Tolono Unity, the team that made it to the championship, would have been their semifinal opponent had they just made it through that quarterfinal injury debacle.  They were also willing to sacrifice for this opportunity. My son, who hasn't lifted a finger to help out around the house in a few months, even did all the Thanksgiving dishes by himself so I would take the day and drive them here.

This trip has caused me to reflect on how I might better help my trial advocacy and trial team students to visualize themselves being successful in the courtroom. Some students, much like my son and his teammates, have an innate competitive desire that drives them to visualize what is possible.  Others need to have someone open their eyes for them.

One of my favorite movie scenes is from Hoosiers, when Gene Hackman takes his Hickory High School basketball team to the arena where they will play in the state championship game. He has them measure the height of the baskets and the dimensions of the floor, and they soon realize that the dimensions in this massive arena are exactly the same as in their home gym. Here's a clip of that scene:

How do you help your students visualize success? What techniques do you use to help them understand that they belong in the courtroom and can be victorious there?

Please share what you do.


Chris Behan

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  1. Great post!

    I remember watching my kids playing high school soccer (two played on State championship teams) and agonizing because they had to succeed or fail without any real help from me; all I could do was watch. I’m sure those of you who coach Trial Teams feel that way at every competition.

    I love that scene from Hoosiers, too, but I’d like to posit a slight variation on what I think it means. Hackman has his team do their measurements (and remember that one team member literally has another on his back to do that), then gives them the speech about the dimensions. But then, as he’s following the team out, he turns to one of the other adults and says “It is big!” I think the point is not just that the dimensions of the court are the same, but that the skills the players have – what brought them to this point – are still the same, too. If they can use those skills to win in Hickory’s tiny gym, they also can use them to win in Butler’s mammoth fieldhouse.

    That’s why I always do the final trials for my Trial Practice classes in my courtroom at the courthouse downtown. I want them to begin to feel the pressure of that real arena, the one where they will spend their professional lives -- but I also want them to begin to feel comfortable there, to become empowered, using the skills they learned at the law school and seeing those skills translate to that larger stage – and to the representation of real clients. When I tell them the schedule for final trials, I reference my reasons for going to the courthouse thusly: “School is where we go to learn. The courthouse is where we go to work.”

    Best ----


  2. Check out "Power Poses" by Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School as a way to prepare for success in the courtroom.

  3. An Addendum to Random Thoughts from a McDonald's:

    We watched the game in the bitter cold of Memorial Stadium, 35 degrees with a stiff wind. Aurora Christian gave up two early touchdowns. Behind 12-0 in the first quarter, they stuck with their game plan and ended up winning the game 42-12.

    On the way home, my son and I discussed the lessons he learned from the game. He said he was surprised to see that neither team appeared significantly faster, better or stronger than his team, an insight that matched my own. In his words, this took away the intimidation factor of the game. Second, he thought the difference in the game had to do with the way the teams reacted to setbacks and mistakes. The team that remained calm and stuck to its game plan prevailed. Third, he thought that experiencing the atmosphere of a championship game was good preparation for next year.

    He felt it was well worth enduring the long drive and the bitter cold to learn these lessons.

    So I started thinking about how I might apply some similar lessons to coaching trial teams. Usually, when we go to a tournament and get eliminated, we skip the championship rounds.

    That's loser behavior, and it shouldn't be a surprise that we've not made it to a championship round yet.

    But I'm changing. At the In Vino Veritas competition, I actually attended the championship round and learned more about coaching a winning team than three previous years of coaching teams on a trial-and-error basis had taught me. And what intrigues me the lessons I learned from watching the championship round were very similar to those my son learned from attending someone else's state championship football game.

    I'd like to actually coach my students in a championship round one of these days, but in the meantime, I'm going to require them to start watching the championship rounds at the tournaments we compete in. They need to see how close they are to success (much closer than they believe). They also need to see how winners deal with inevitable adversity (still a problem for us). And they need to experience a championship atmosphere to whet their own appetites to return.

  4. Chris: I'm leaving for a big mediation today on a PI case with huge
    damages, but difficult liability. It is so hard to convince plaintiff
    clients about the long haul play-out of putting the whole thing
    together for a trial--- procedural nuances, evidentiary problems,
    liens that nibble away at success, and the sometimes myopic vision of
    injured people who cannot even believe that jurors may have a
    different perception of the matter than they do.. I guess you have
    to get old and experienced to have a view of the big picture, and then
    the challenge is to convey it diplomatically to the client. If
    mediation fails, we try the case with all the zeal of the young
    football players you took to Champaign. Nice sports/trial advocacy
    analogy by you. Oh, by the way, the insurance company on my case
    demanded that Prof. Tom Stewart be our mediator, and this was
    obviously fine with me. We have quite a few retired judges in St.
    Louis who fatten their pensions as mediators, but your friend and
    mine. Tom Stewart, is developing the reputation as the best damn
    mediator in town. You and Charlie Rose deserve a holiday/year-end tip
    of the hat for your incredible and indefatigable blog efforts. Thanks
    so much and Happy Holidays to all. Hardy Menees