Do you know what your most important case is really all about? Probably not. Can you boil down all the facts into a simple sentence (a bottom line message) that explains to a judge, mediator, or jury why you should win? Probably not. The reason you—and me—make this mistake is that it takes a lot of effort. But the effort is worth it because doing this exercise affects outcomes.
In Turning Points, I interviewed Tom Girardi about this exercise. He does it for all his big cases. You might remember Bryan Stowe, who was a San Francisco Giants fan who was attending the opening day game at Dodgers stadium and was wearing the jersey of the visiting Giants. He was brutally assaulted on the way to his car after the game. Girardi had the almost impossible task of suing the Dodgers in their home town of LA and trying to find jurors who would rule against the beloved Dodgers. Girardi explains how he came up with a winning bottom line message and how you can to. In short, he learned through focus groups that while potential jurors loved the Dodgers, they hated the former owner of the Dodgers, McCourt, who was the owner when Stowe was injured.
So, Girardi came up with the bottom line message: ABMD defense. That is, the Dodgers were going to blame the assault and lack of security on Anyone But the McCourt Dodgers. He wanted to constantly remind the jurors that he was suing the hated McCourt Dodgers and that the Dodgers were not going to take responsibility as they should.
But the importance of boiling down a lot of facts down to their essence is a must exercise for leaders in the courtroom and all walks of life. I was recently reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterful biography of LBJ. She wrote about LBJ’s failure in essence to have a bottom line message about the war.
She explained how LBJ would have lunch every Tuesday with leaders of his Cabinet and national security advisors to plan the next steps for the Vietnam War. Goodwin faulted these meetings because the attendees knew that LBJ wanted the meetings to focus on the operational rather strategic questions and on logistics instead of structural considerations. For example, the meetings would discuss bombing targets, food rations, and new equipment that was available but never once the nature of the war or its importance to national security. She wrote, “Someone once said as he watched Dean Rusk hurrying to the White House for a meeting of the Tuesday lunch, ‘If you told him right now of a sure-fire way to defeat the Vietcong and to get out of Vietnam, he would groan that he was too busy to worry about that now; he had to discuss next week’s bombing targets.’”
Spend some time over the next month thinking of a bottom line message of your most important cases. It will make all the difference in the outcome.