Listening

Gerry Spence and I were close long before we actually met each other. Gerry had invited me to speak at the Trial Lawyers College, but my trial schedule stood in the way. Since then we have had a chance to talk a lot about trial practice, the trials we have been involved in and, of course, I had the unusual perspective of watching Gerry represent me against the Government.

Gerry and I are a bit of an “Odd Couple”. Gerry is like a trial Zen Warrior who likes to go around the mountain to get to the other side; usually if its in my way I will knock it down – he is a Siren gently calling the defense to ruin on the shoals of Anthemusa, whereas me – well FiegerTime has been compared to a visit by Genghis Khan or a Sunday ride with Gen. Sherman.

While we joke about the apparent differences in personalities whenever we talk, over the years we have recognized that we share much more in common. For example, we share the ability to listen – not just to hear but to listen. Believe me; if you knew Spence you would know the difference. Gerry’s hearing is about as sensitive as a moon rock, but he can listen more astutely than anyone I have ever known. (Sorry Gerry, I couldn’t resist.)

How many times do we “hear” something and make the mistake that it is something we have heard before? It’s because we don’t listen. Scientists tell us that our brains “fill in the blanks” or complete the sentence. It takes a conscious effort to really listen. The more familiar a person is to us the harder it becomes to “listen”. As lawyers, we often talk to a client who has suffered some horrible damage that we have come across in many other cases and there may be a tendency to say “I have heard this story before… I know what happened, now let me do my thing.” That would be a natural tendency and it would also be a mistake. You have to listen to every person carefully because while the damage may be familiar, HOW they experience it is always different and can have a tremendous effect on the case’s outcome.

The willingness and patience to actively listen to every person is not just important for the success of a trial lawyer – it is important for every relationship we have. Think about it. If we actively listen the least to the most familiar, what does that mean to our closest relationships? And these are the people who mean the most to us! We need to listen to everyone in our lives if we want to be successful, whether they are our children or clients. Listen and understand what they are saying to us even if we think we have heard the words before.

The ability to listen is not a genetic trait that comes automatically. It requires practice and most of all, effort. For example, I head what some would describe as the largest and most successful Plaintiff’s law firm in Michigan; we try cases all over the Country. I’m always being asked to speak or give interviews to the media. I am the father of 3 beautiful children ages 7, 5 and 1. In other words, I am super busy. At times it seems like I have 5 people talking to me at once. Because I am so busy I always remind myself that my success as a lawyer, father & as a friend depends upon my willingness to take the time and effort to LISTEN and to be kind.

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4 Responses to Listening

  1. David says:

    Mr. Fieger-
    Great post. I’m a lawyer in Omaha, a grad of TLC and a big fan. Congrats on your recent win. No doubt it’s your biggest ever.

    I’m writing on behalf of another victim of the Bush Admin, Matt Diaz, who is the Navy JAG who released the names of the Gitmo detainees in a letter to the plaintiff’s lawyer who was suing for them. He was discharged from the Navy after 6 months in the brig, and his bar license is now temporarily suspended.

    I contacted him after reading in the NYT that his dad is on death row in CA and that he went into law after being disappointed that his dad’s p.d. convinced him to waive jury, which led to his dad being on death row after a judge trial, or as I like to cal them, a “slow plea.”

    Matt was set to start teaching in NYC and just completed 7 weeks of training after moving his family there. Last Thursday he contacted me to let me know that he was just told not to report as he didn’t pass a background check, undoubtedly because of the Gitmo “crime” which to me was a crime in the sense that Rosa Parks committed one.

    After hearing this, I talked to my ex-boss, the Public Defender in Omaha, and we might be able to find him a job here but it’s not a very good one and not really worth moving for.

    Then I thought that perhaps your recent experience might put you “in his shoes” so to speak and that you might know of jobs in Detroit or elsewhere for Matt.

    There’s a lot I’m not telling you here as Big Brother is watching, but I would love to tell you the “rest of the story.”

    If you can possibly help Matt, it would be greatly appreciated. It sickens me that people like Libby and Fredo will land on millions while Matt can’t even find a decent job because of the climate.

    Thanks for your time. I don’t know where else to turn but would appreciate any help.

    Dave Tarrell

  2. Dave-
    Your letter is greatly appreciated & compelling. I was vaguely aware of Mr. Diaz’ problems, but not nearly to the extent that you are. Michigan is not a place I would ever recommend a lawyer to relocate to. At this time we have what I believe to be the worst supreme court in the country.
    G.F.

  3. David says:

    Thanks for the reply and info. I appreciate it and am sure something will turn up.

  4. InYourFaceNewYorker says:

    Lots of good points. I am horrendously guilty of interrupting my best friend of nearly ten years and saying, “Yes, you’ve said this before,” or “Not this again!” and then I find out he wasn’t going to say what I thought. Sometimes I get frustrated with him because this otherwise liberal person will espouse views that are consistent with right-wing Republicans– who he hates! So sometimes I’m quick to assume certain things and jump down his throat.

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