March 4, 2016 
 An Interview with Ron Estefan, Texas Regional Faculty Co Leader on: Discovering the Story and Opening Statement (coming up on April 14-17!)

Ron, great to learn that you will be co-leading the upcoming Texas Regional in April!  And it’s going to be at Mo Ranch, outside of San Antonio!!  Does this venue provide the same sense of unplugging and reconnecting as the Thunderhead Ranch?

Oh, absolutely.  Everything is electronic anymore and we are really losing the skills necessary to have an interpersonal face to face connection. That’s such a shame because at a minimum that is what trial lawyers have to do when we walk into a courtroom, right? We make that interpersonal connection with strangers and do it in a short time.  There is no shortcut to connecting with people in a meaningful way. You have to start with “you” if you ever hope to have anything meaningful or important happen with a client or with a jury. Being able to connect with yourself is going to make it easier to connect with your client. As Gerry has said more times than I can count, “It all starts with you.”  So if you aren’t in tune with who you are and where you are and why you are there, you can never truly relate to another human being.  And working on this skill at Mo Ranch, outside of San Antonio, is a perfect environment.   

Do you have experiences in your life, in the courtroom or as you’re developing a relationship with your client where it just sort of hits you, “Wow this is everything they talked about at TLC and it’s coming out right now”?  

Absolutely, I can tell you when I’m in trial, I’m so in tune with what’s going on with my client that I frequently will include my client in the conversation while I’m addressing the jury. For example, I had a case where my client’s son was killed. My client was Linda. Linda’s son was Matthew, an autistic, severely mentally challenged 23 year old living in an assisted living facility. Because of his limitations, Matthew was prone to tantrums arising from his frustration to be understood.  The assisted living facility was owned by a husband and wife. They had an adult son who also was employed at the assisted living facility.  One day when Matthew was frustrated, the owners’ son restrained Matthew, suffocating him in the process.  He killed Matthew. Linda had testified during the trial. When I was doing my closing argument I turned to her and I said “Linda, you apologized to me when you were on the witness stand because you felt like I was probing into your life and you didn’t owe me that apology. I owe you an apology for reopening all of these old wounds and I’m sorry.”  It was heartfelt, it was genuine and it was real in that moment. Linda closed her eyes and bowed her head forward acknowledging that I had sent that her way and then I turned back to the jury and I kept right on where I left off. The jury saw that I was in touch with my client and what was going on. After the jury rendered a verdict for Linda, they came out and hugged her. This jury just finished rendering a million and half dollar verdict against the two defendants. They came out of the jury room, they hugged our client. Then they went over and they hugged the defendants!  That is TLC.  And it happened because I had taken the time to discover the story of my client’s case, of her son, of their family. Because of the TLC method of discovering the story — and I knew how to tell that story thru every phase of the trial.  It was awesome to be a part of that.   

Wow. That is really powerful.  

Well, it is what people will learn at the upcoming Texas Regional.  Telling our clients’ stories so that we win for them in the courtroom — that is what happens when you have taken the time to know who you are, and care enough about who your client is and who the other people are in the courtroom, that you can tell their story fairly and honestly.  The story you want the jury to hear.  The story that will render justice.  The jury senses it, they feel it. You know, the plain and simple truth is that everybody makes decisions on feelings, on emotions and until you can get to your own feelings and then connect with other people with what they are, with their feelings, you can’t ever reach the highest levels of what you are capable of reaching. You just can’t do it. In fact you can’t really know how to do a decent voir dire, you can’t know how to do an opening statement – I mean everything in trial is a story. How can you know what story to tell until you have learned the story? The mistake I used to make is I would start filling in the framework of the story with my own stuff. The story would ring hollow because it wasn’t my clients story, it’s my story grafted onto a story. That doesn’t have the same emotional connection with a jury that the true story does. When I say discovering the story, it’s not just sitting there and discovering cold fact after cold fact: I’m talking about discovering the emotionally connective story. The story that we all can relate to because at some level we have all experienced some form of that story. That’s where you find meaning in the story. All the other stuff is fluff. The amount of vivid detail our clients and witnesses remember when you start doing the discovering the story work is remarkable – the little details that would have otherwise gone unspoken, undiscovered. How many times have I heard people say “Oh, I remember this was happening”, in the middle of a discovering the story exercise, “Oh! Oh! I remember now”. That happens almost every session of discovering the story.

Why don’t they teach this kind of thing in law school?

Law as taught in law school has become some sort of abstract. Law schools teach us that feelings and emotions are useless; that they don’t serve any functional purpose in trial or in lawsuits. Nothing could be further from the truth!  Law schools teach about cases, and the way they came out and the reasons they came out the way they did and why that matters and what the effects of that are. We all come into law school, most of us at least, with two functioning hemispheres of our brain. Law schools pretty much shut down all of the creative, the caring, the emotional, so called “right brain stuff”. They shut all of that down and they make it wither and die as best they can. Now by some miracle (and frankly, a lot of hard work) the Trial Lawyers College can resuscitate the right brain and bring it back to life and make it function again. That is really the strength of Trial Lawyers College. Not only do we say emotions aren’t bad, we say emotions and feelings and caring are essential. They are essential to being able to tell the most compelling story to a jury. We have to have that. I don’t want jurors leaving or going back to deliberate with the feeling of “so what”. I want them going back there with passion, with anger, with love, with whatever other feelings have been evoked in them during the trial. I want them feeling a sense of betrayal – like somebody got shafted here, somebody got betrayed and I’m going to make it right. People are natural problem solvers but you have got to give them a sense that what they are doing matters. When you can move the jury’s heart, when you can do that – when you can connect with their heart – then they’re motivated to act. I can’t wait to work with many talented trial lawyers at the Texas Regional in April.  It doesn’t matter if they are just starting their careers, if they are burned out and think they can’t face one more day practicing the same old way…  trial lawyers need each-other.  We need support, and creativity, and connection — we need to be bonded in our belief and quest for obtaining justice for our clients.  That’s what will happen down at Mo Ranch, because it happens every time at a TLC event.  It really is the most important training I have ever done, as a person and as a trial lawyer.   

 

About Ron Estefan:

“It changed my life” – this is the phrase you hear most frequently from those who have experienced a Trial Lawyers College seminar.  Ron went to his first Trial Lawyers College seminar in February, 2004 and then graduated in July, 2005, and he has served on its faculty for a number of years since then. His personal injury trial law practice in Houston, Texas centers around the people he gets to represent, their stories and how some event re-wrote the story of their lives in some way they did not plan or even see coming.

 

Come join Ron and the rest of the TLC faculty team at the Texas Regional Seminar: Texas Regional Seminar: Discovering the Story & Opening Statement April 14-17! LEARN ABOUT IT HERE

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