The Art of the Spiel
An old blind man is begging on a street corner with a cup and a sign next to him that simply says: “Blind – Please help.” No one gives him money. After hours the cup is still empty.
A man who works in advertising notices the empty cup as he’s walking past and also the scores of people that pass without a care. The man takes a marker from his pocket and flips the sign around, rewrites the sign, puts it down and walks away.
Within seconds, the blind man hears the constant sound of money filling his cup. Before long the cup is overflowing. The blind man asks a stranger to tell him what the new sign says. “It says,” said the stranger, “It’s a beautiful day. You can see it. I cannot.”
To be a criminal defense attorney is to engage in the constant effort to frame in words and examples the very best fight one can for their client. I am constantly asking my clients when hired to give me every example they can of their character down to their little league photos so that I can build a narrative to present on their behalf. I want the prosecutor to know my client beyond the act in which they’re being charged.
It’s often when I ask for these things that my client tells me, “There’s not much to tell. I haven’t done much,” (the proverbial “Blind – Please help” type of thinking). I have to ask them, “Did you graduate from high school?” If the answer is yes, I ask for a diploma. “Do you have a lot of family in town?” If the answer is yes, get me letters from them about how good a person you are. “Do you work?” Get me your pay stubs. “Do you go to church?” Get me something from your pastor. “Do you have kids? Get me pictures of you and your family. I end up feeling like Clarence telling George Bailey “You really did have a wonderful life.”
With all of those things I’m able to put together a presentation or narrative that frames my client in a way that people notice. “It’ s a beautiful day. You can see it. I cannot.”