In one of their best episodes, Disorder in the Court, they unwittingly are able to teach several lessons in how to and how not to try a case. Here are eight steps to becoming a better trial lawyer -- from the unique perspective of Moe, Larry, and Curly:
1. Show up on time - to court, mediations, arbitrations and meetings. In fact, show up early (see Three Stooges 1). You would be surprised how often we see very good trial lawyers, late for a mediation and sometimes even for trial.
2. Take your job seriously because people's lives are at stake ( not to mention their property and freedoms) (see Three Stooges 2). As a trial lawyer, with a full caseload, there is always something more important and unexpected waiting in the wings. It can be a challenge sometimes to keep perspective on the fact that every case, no matter how big or small in comparison to our other cases, is very important to each of our clients. However, the work that lawyers do is work that significantly impacts peoples lives – whether it is a fight over the faulty restoration of a brick chimney or the accurate determination of damages for the loss of patents in an intellectual property dispute.
3. Sometimes the simplest things to do in a courtroom are the most challenging for witnesses standing before a jury. For example, witnesses under the pressure of their imminent testimony will get flabbergasted over precisely where to stand when getting sworn in, how to navigate one’s way from the public seating area to the witness stand, or, as in Curly's case, what to do with one's hat and cane (see Three Stooges 3).
4. Repetition helps to punctuate a point (or in the case of the Three Stooges, a gimmick -- see Three Stooges 4). Repetition helps to keep the jury, judge, mediator, arbitrator, or your opponent focused on what you believe is important and what you want them to remember.
5. Make sure your witnesses (especially your experts) speak in words that the jury can understand (see Three Stooges 5). Don't let your witnesses use specialized lingo or haughty words. The goal is to speak at the jury's level without speaking down to them.
6. Visual communication and courtroom technology is not about bells and whistles (see Three Stooges 6). Whenever you present visual information, it should be substantively helpful to the jury. Just because you have access to use a particular type of technology doesn't mean that you should use it. You should deliberately choose the type, amount, and length of a visual presentation based on whether it will help the jury, judge, arbitrator, mediator, or opponent understand your evidence better.
7. Live, in-court demonstrations or experiments can backfire (see Three Stooges 7). I am always amazed to see experienced trial lawyers who wing it. Preparation will ensure your demonstration goes well. Preparation will enhance your credibility before an opponent, mediator, judge, or jury. Preparation, likewise, will prevent your witnesses from embarrassment. Be careful not to do something in court that you have not successfully attempted beforehand (out of the presence of the jury) or that simply could blow up in your face due to its uncontrollable nature. The infamous example of this mistake is the OJ Simpson “glove doesn’t fit” fiasco.
8. Finally, show respect for the law. Law keeps order in a society. The disorder and irreverence that the Three Stooges display in court is entertaining (see Three Stooges 8), but the truth is there are a lot of errors that lawyers make everyday in court that could easily be avoided.