Sunday, August 16, 2015

Seneca on judges (and a 2,000 year-old practice tip for defense lawyers)

I’ve written numerous times how judges often fail to grasp even the most basic legal principles — including, for example, the concept of hearsay.  (See here, here, and here for just a few of those posts.)  This is incredibly frustrating for defense lawyers who go to trial intending to put on evidence in defense of their clients.  But there’s good news.  A Stoic philosopher named Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 bc – 65 ad) offers some advice for the criminal defense lawyer.  This advice will certainly help us keep our composure in court, and might even increase our odds of successfully educating the judge — though educating the prosecutor, who typically raises the inappropriate objection to our evidence in the first place, may be beyond hope.

Seneca believed that speaking hurriedly, excitedly, and quickly “is better suited to a hawker than to someone who deals with a subject of serious importance and is also a teacher.”  Instead, he recommends we speak slowly and calmly in order to increase our chances of being understood: “what is waited for does sink in more readily than what goes flying past[.]”

And if you think Seneca’s advice was meant only for his fellow philosophers, you’d be wrong.  Instead, he had us defense lawyers in mind:

Even in an advocate I should be loath to allow such uncontrollable speed in delivery, all in an unruly rush; how could a judge (who is not uncommonly inexperienced and unqualified) be expected to keep up with it?  Even on the occasions when an advocate is carried away by an ungovernable passion or a desire to display his powers, he should not increase his pace and pile on the words beyond the capacity of the ear.

Ha!  It turns out that even the proliferation of law schools and the passage of 2,000 years haven’t changed the judiciary.  So when in court, criminal defense lawyers, follow Seneca’s advice: dumb it down and slow it down!

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