Aspire to Explain Like Bill Clinton
I have learned a lot about lawyering from Bill Clinton. I went to a two-day deposition seminar where we watched lots of footage of Bill Clinton’s depositions taken during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He was a master of evasion, and also a master of making the deposing attorneys look incompetent. It provided the basis for some serious lessons in dealing with difficult witness (not that I feel confident in my ability to “beat” Bill Clinton in a deposition).
At the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night, Clinton showed another of his skills: the ability to mesmerize a crowd by explaining complex economic and policy issues at a basic level. That is the same skill it takes to deliver an argument in the boardroom and in the courtroom.
Bill Clinton should be the Secretary of Explaining Things.
— Ben Greenman (@bengreenman) September 6, 2012
I always told my moot court students that legal advocacy is, essentially, trying to explain extremely complicated legal issues to a third grader. Since the average U.S. literacy level is more like 7th or 8th grade, maybe that should be the target, but I think my point stands. Clinton’s speech comes out around 10th grade when I plug it into a Flesch-Kincaid test, but let’s give him credit for a grade or two, since he was discussing some pretty high-level policy. I don’t think anyone watching that speech felt like the subject matter was beyond them.
Lawyers are counselors. We always have a client, and our goal is always to help our clients understand the complicated legal issues they are facing, and their options. That means breaking things down in plain English, and I don’t think many people can do that better than Bill Clinton did on Wednesday night.
This is how you explain complicated issues and concepts at a level your clients can understand. Throw out the legalese and jargon, and make the issues comprehensible without dumbing them down or talking down to people. It makes your clients feel empowered instead of confused, which leads to many happy clients.