Quote of the Day:
“I have suffered from being misunderstood, but I would have suffered a hell of a lot more if I had been understood.” –Clarence Darrow
TB had the subject of thick southern accents come up the other day. I think a well executed southern accent is a beautiful sound, educated, refined, yet collegial. Unfortunately I have one of those thick, over the top, and slurry versions of the dialect that makes calling in a pizza delivery an ordeal. At times I can control it. At least I think I can.
Back in 2002, I was called upon to try a case for two companies involved in asbestos litigation. Fortunately, my clients were peripheral defendants in the case, meaning the plaintiff’s lawyers had bigger targets with deeper pockets and thus paid little attention to us. But in a trial, many things can happen that can move a seemingly safe client right into the bullseye in a heartbeat. So I was fully prepared to defend the case. I was psyched up for battle. I attempted to cover every angle that could present a threat to my clients. One of the things that occurred to me was that my particular accent might alienate the Judge and jury. So while preparing my opening statements I took great care to speak like a TV anchorman, as best I could.
At the appointed time I rose confidently and strode with a smile toward the jury box. I greeted the Judge and jury. I introduced my clients and explained where they were from. I made a little joke–you know the kind preachers make that are church-funny but not funny-funny? In the same way, lawyers cannot really tell gut busters in court, but we can tell jokes that are court-funny but not funny-funny. I emphasized how little they would be hearing from me because we weren’t really involved in all these high stakes arguments being made by the other lawyers. My clients were just a couple of small town shops and I was their respectful-of-the-big-city country lawyer. There were no missing “g”s. My enunciation was pronounced. Contractions were eschewed. There were no colorful colloquialisms. I channeled Tom Brokaw and before I turned back to my table I thought a couple of the jurors might have given me signs they approved of what I had to say and how I said it. As I sat I noticed that several of the high dollar California lawyers even nodded appreciatively at my effort. It felt good.
Shortly after my successful opening we broke for lunch. A dozen or so defense lawyers gathered in the cafeteria. These were guys mostly from L.A. and San Francisco who had their names on the letterhead above hundreds of attorneys. Conversely, I was a decade or more younger and had my name last at an eight person firm in the seventh largest town in Mississippi. Once again, I patted myself on the back and attacked my sandwich in quiet self-satisfaction. One of the lead lawyers sat down by me. “Good job this morning,” he said. “Thanks,” I replied, knowing it. Brokaw had nothing on me. The guy continued, “I’m not sure about the Judge, but I think that corn-pone thing really went over well with the jury.”
As the suddenly unappetizing sandwich dropped unceremoniously and unheeded to my tray, I stared blankly into space.