What Litigators Can Teach You About Building Your Practice

September 7, 2015

by Dan Solin

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Before I became an investor advisor and author, I was a lawyer for many years. I practiced in New York and specialized in commercial litigation. A meaningful part of my job was advocating for my clients before the judge assigned to the case. After trial, I argued many appeals that were heard by a three-judge panel, in a very august and intimidating courtroom.

Trying to persuade judges and prospects

The stakes were often high, and the setting was anxiety-producing. As everyone knows, the judge sits on an elevated podium and peers down at the lawyers who are presenting their cases. Depending on the judge’s mood, you could be treated well or with incredible rudeness and derision.

There was absolutely nothing you could do about it.

An appellate argument multiplied the anxiety. Instead of dealing with one judge, you had to cope with three. They bombarded you with questions, often interrupting each other. A lawyer who could not immediately point to a specific page in a record consisting of hundreds of pages felt diminished in stature.

When I changed careers and had the opportunity to meet with prospects, I had many of the same feelings. Often the prospects came to the meeting with a set of strong beliefs that were not supported by any evidence.

Persuading them to abandon these beliefs was a daunting challenge, and I had many unsuccessful attempts.

The power of nonverbal persuasion

Given my background as a litigator, investment advisor and author, I was fascinated to read a study by Michael J. Higdon, a law professor, titled: “Oral Argument and Impression Management: Harnessing the Power of Nonverbal Persuasion for a Judicial Audience.” Higdon set out to determine how nonverbal persuasion affects the outcome of an oral argument before a judge (not a jury).

He noted the challenges of this scenario: The setting is formal and the judge has a position of dominance. This is not dissimilar from what you confront when you meet with a prospect. You do so typically in a conference room (a formal setting), and the prospect holds the cards because you need to persuade her to entrust you with her assets.

Summary of findings

Here’s a summary of what Higdon found to be persuasive tactics that a lawyer can use:

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What Litigators Can Teach You About Building Your Practice