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Finding Hidden Treasure

“All advocacy is, at its core, an exercise in empathy.”

––Samantha Power

Standing in another’s shoes implies assuming a point of view different from one’s own. You’re seeing things from another’s frame of reference, from their sense of perspective. The angle of vision, the corridor of approach, the nature and extent of indistinct outline and specific detail perceived and capable of being perceived––all may vary depending on context and circumstance. To state the obvious: a five year old child sees the world differently than a seventy year old man. To state the not-so-obvious: a seventy year old man may unwittingly fail to see before his eyes that which others easily perceive. The end and starting points of balance, of centeredness, can shift depending on the happenstance of a random, unexpected life event.

“Similarly, lawyers should explore details and not shy away from the warts or problems in the client’s story.They should red flag and then explore seeming inconsistencies and explore them.They may find hidden treasure in this expedition. The attorney should ask questions, perform investigations, and shine a continued light on the contradiction and the consistencies within it until the attorney has a grasp of a genuine story from the client’s point of view.”

Standing in another’s shoes implies processing information differently. It’s not only what’s seen, it’s how it’s perceived. If the task one is called upon to master implicates both variance and invariance, then a sense of the omnipresent, the omnidirectional, is a little-known competence to be recognized and refined. “An actor should be observant not only on the stage, but in real life. He should concentrate with all his being on whatever attracts his attention. He should look at an object, not as any absent–minded passerby, but with penetration. Otherwise his whole creative method will prove lopsided and bear no relation to life.”[1]A highly refined power of observation––a skill rarely mentioned, let alone trained and developed.

“All of the details regarding the inconsistency itself must be explored, but the attorney must also step into the client’s point of view. When the client is mentally ill like Lloyd or a poor communicator, it may be more difficult to understand the client’s perspective. Lawyers representing the mentally ill, battered spouses, abused or neglected children or elders, or even clients with more garden-variety psychological challenges should take time to familiarize themselves with some of the special dynamics that can cloud their client’s account. Moreover, witnesses can help fill in the missing details. For instance, in the Eddie Lloyd case it might have been helpful to talk to Lloyd’s therapists.”

Standing in another’s shoes implies looking beyond the surface. Motivation may at times predict behavior––consequence, the end result of a series of small decisions. Sight-lines may be obscured not by design, but by distraction, perplexity. “There are people gifted by nature with powers of observation. Without effort they form a sharp impression of whatever is going on around them, in themselves, and in others. Also they know how to cull out of these observations whatever is most significant, typical, or colorful. When you hear such people talk you are struck by the amount that an unobservant person misses.”[2]

“Through this process, the attorney can think of the source of the confusion. Confusion can arise when we do not understand the terms a person is using. Additionally, we may fail to miss causes for a person’s behavior or for other events in the case. Each time the story falls short, it is time for the attorney to dive back in and further explore the details. In so doing, attorneys must imagine themselves in the client’s shoes. After the client’s point of view and the details are explored, the attorney must then determine whether these reveal a consistency within the narrative as a whole and whether the narrative fits a helpful legal theory. From there, it is the attorney’s duty to develop a narrative that reveals that consistency for the opposing party, the judge, or the jury.”

Standing in another’s shoes implies gathering more than enough facts and information to visualize reality. The known facts as presented and disclosed may not be enough to explain a person’s inner life––and it’s the hidden, the unseen, which cast invisible shadows. “To avoid such mistakes, remember, for all time, that when you begin to study each role you should first gather all the materials that have any bearing on it, and supplement them with more and more imagination, until you have achieved such a similarity to life that it is easy to believe in what you are doing. In the beginning forget about your feelings. When the inner conditions are prepared, and right, feelings will come to the surface of their own accord.”[3]

Standing in another’s shoes––a task more important than typically recognized. It’s what will open up the door, perhaps even a side door where new ways of seeing can occur. Harper Lee knew this when she had her elder character explain, “First of all,” he said, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view––” “Sir?” “––until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”[4]Patience is required to take the extra time needed “to walk around in it.” (In fact, the most important part may be the painstaking process of “walking around.”)

“Average people have no conception of how to observe the facial expression, the look of the eye, the tone of the voice, in order to comprehend the state of mind of the persons with whom they talk. They can neither actively grasp the complex truths of life nor listen in a way to understand what they hear. If they could do this, life, for them, would be better and easier, and their creative work immeasurably richer, finer, and deeper. But you cannot put into a person what he does not possess; he can only try to develop whatever power he may have. In the field of attention this development calls for a tremendous amount of work, time, desire to succeed, and systematic practice.”[5]

Above quotations from: Cathren Page, Breaking Bad Facts: What Intriguing Contradictions in Fiction Narratives Can Teach Lawyers About Coping with Harmful Evidence, Barry University, From the SelectedWorks of Cathren Page (February 15, 2015)

[1]Constantin Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, Pg. 86 (1936 Theatre Arts, Inc.)

[2]Constantin Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, Pg. 86 (1936 Theatre Arts, Inc.)

[3]Constantin Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, Pg. 50 (1936 Theatre Arts, Inc.)

[4]Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, Pg. 30 (Warner Books 1960)

[5]Constantin Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, Pg. 86-87 (1936 Theatre Arts, Inc.)