There I stood in the well of the packed courtroom. Cameras focused on me, the culmination of a career in court, weeks of preparation, editing, and practice—it was the moment that an oral advocate trains for. I knew the substance of my argument, and I had detailed facts to offer, but how would I deliver it with impact? In the face of such density and pressure, how does one convince a diverse group of people, who know that you are trying to persuade them, to move together in one direction? It might have been easier if I had more information about each of them, about their biases, their tendencies, their lives, their feelings. But I had very little. At this moment, when I had an audience and observers waiting expectantly, how would I tell a persuasive story that would save the life of the trial?
So I began my Donahue Lecture at Suffolk University Law School. I aimed to emphasize the importance of advocacy at trial. I told its story. I showed it with multimedia. I interacted and got audience feedback. I pulled heartstrings and imparted knowledge. I did not try to be exhaustive, but I had a point: to make the case that we need to update trial advocacy. I argued why it is critical that lawyers, students, and professors—as well as judges, legislators, and corporate clients—each celebrate the importance of the trial. It is not a zero-sum game. The craft deserves excellence, and those who excel command a premium. I further argued that trial advocacy has fundamentally changed because of developments in science, technology, and the changes in the practice of law itself. What we know about how people process information and how to connect with them has evolved. Trial advocacy must evolve in light of these developments. Finally, I shared some thoughts on what actually works to change minds in a courtroom, an appreciation that each piece of information can generate belief in a fact or a feeling, a prominent role of emotional intelligence, and framing information in ways that are consistent with our themes. Through adaptation, the advocates of this century should thrive and not just survive.