If you ask someone to tell you about their case, they'll drone on for ten minutes telling you details about what the offending person did.
Details you don't need.
Details you don't care about.
Details that just don't matter to you.
If you ask a friend to summarize a movie, can they do it in one or two sentences?
Or maybe they're the type of person who takes ten minutes to describe a movie.
I try doing this exercise with my kids all the time.
They just watched a TV show.
"Tell me what the show was about," I say.
"Well, it's about a guy who goes on a search to find..."
Five minutes later, I still don't know what the show was about.
When I have been in court and observed other lawyers on trial, I always pay attention to the story they are trying to tell.
A great time to observe a trial is during openings and also when the case is finishing up, during closing remarks.
You see, at the beginning of the case, the jury knows almost nothing about your case.
They don't know the details.
They've been told this is a medical malpractice case.
During jury selection, they may have been told a few additional details.
But other than that, nothing.
Your attorney's goal when starting a trial is to capture the jury's attention and hold their attention.
There are many ways to do that.
A simplistic way is to launch into the story.
Start telling the facts.
In a chronological order.
A factual order.
But there are better ways.
Reciting the facts are just boring.
Very little creativity doing that.
Here's an example.
On January 1, my client Mrs. Jones went to Dr. Gold.
She complained of difficulty breathing.
Before getting to the office Mrs. Jones stopped off at the pharmacy to pick up some decongestant.
When she arrived at the doctor's office, he kept her waiting in the waiting room for over an hour.
This example is BORING.
This example is filled with useless facts.
None of those facts will affect the jurors at all.
So, let's change it up a bit.
"This case involves a failure to diagnose lung cancer causing it to spread throughout her body. She has very little time left to live."
You see what I mean?
In just one sentence I have told you what this case is about and the urgency at which we need help reaching a verdict.
That sentence piques everyone's interest.
It's like a bold headline.
It's a theme.
The headline is designed to get jurors to sit up and take notice.
Then, using sub-headlines we can focus on different categories we need to talk about.
"The doctor violated the basic standards of medical care here. You're going to hear from world-class experts describe in detail how this doctor was careless. You'll hear them tell us that his carelessness caused this patient's untreated cancer to grow and spread silently in her body. This patient's life is going to be cut short because this physician violated the basic rules that doctors in his specialty must follow."
Let me give you an example of a young man who had chest pain who went to the emergency room by ambulance.
The doctors there did the right thing.
They did a full cardiac work up.
They found nothing.
They told him to follow up with a cardiologist to see why he was having chest pain.
Such a young man.
With a young wife.
And a young daughter.
Each month, this young man would go to this new cardiologist.
He'd make complaints of occassional chest pain that radiated down his arm.
The cardiac doctor gave him some nitroglycerin and told him to return each month.
The nitroglycerin didn't do anything to relieve the intermittent chest pain.
A few nights after the third monthly visit to the cardiologist, this young man woke from a sound sleep with crushing chest pain.
He was sweating profusely.
He was clammy.
He was cold.
The pain was running from his chest to his shoulder down his left arm.
His wife called an ambulance.
They took him to the same hospital they took him three months earlier.
A small community hospital in one of the five boroughs of New York City.
They hooked him up to an EKG and immediately recognized that he was having a massive heart attack.
This small hospital was unable to care for such a severe emergency.
They tried to stabilize him and immediately shipped him by ambulance to a major metropolitan university hospital in New York City.
By the time he arrived in New York City, the damage had been done.
Cardiac testing revealed that 70% of his heart had been killed.
Only 30% of his heart was now functioning.
How is this possible?
He was under the care of a cardiologist!
He had been cleared by the emergency room three months earlier!
How could he now have suffered this massive heart attack that killed off most of his heart?
The answers did not come quickly.
The answers were not revealed until I obtained his medical records and had multiple cardiac experts investigate.
After having multiple medical experts review his records, the consensus was that there were clear violations from good and accepted medical care that caused and contributed to this patient's permanent injuries.
What was done wrong?
When the patient went to the hospital by ambulance the first time he had chest pain, the emergency room doctor disregarded the computer analysis of his EKG.
The computer read the EKG as being significantly abnormal.
The ER doctor said it was totally normal.
Each one of my experts reviewed the EKG.
They ALL said it was abnormal.
They all said the appropriate steps at that point would have been to do a cardiac catheterization to visualize the coronary arteries.
Had they done that, they would have immediately realized that 3 out of 4 of his major coronary arteries were almost 100% blocked.
They could have put stents in to open those vessels.
If that didn't work, he could have undergone a cardiac bypass surgery.
A triple bypass.
Doctors call this a CABG (pronounced cabbage, shorthand for coronary artery bypass graft).
Had they done either of those things, this patient NEVER would have suffered this MASSIVE heart attack that killed off 70% of his heart.
That meant this was all preventable.
That meant this NEVER should have happened.
This was a tragedy of epic proportions.
For the patient.
For his young wife.
For his young daughter.
His life would never be the same.
He'd never live a normal life after this.
He'd never have a normal life expectancy.
His family was distraught.
They were devastated.
If I were to go into court and have a settlement conference with the Judge and my opponents representing the doctors and the hospital, how far do you think I'd get if I gave them the details of this case as I've just done here in this article?
The Judge doesn't have unlimited time.
He has other cases to deal with.
He has other matters to attend to on any given morning.
As much as we'd like his undivided attention all day to discuss this case, it's just not possible.
The Judge knows nothing about this case.
This is just one case among hundreds if not thousands on his calendar.
I need to capture his attention.
I need him to see how devastating his injuries are.
I need him to see immediately that the ER doctor screwed up.
What could I possibly say to get the Judge to sit up and take notice?
"Judge, this case involves the failure by an emergency room physician to recognize severe cardiac disease causing a massive heart attack three months later that killed off 70% of this young man's heart."
That woke the Judge up.
This was not a run of the mill hit-in-the-rear car accident case.
This is not a case with small injuries.
This is a case with huge damages.
Tremendous lost earnings.
He'd been the top salesman in his company.
He was only 37 years old.
His life was now over.
That one sentence established immediately what this case was about.
It established the type of case; cardiac malpractice.
It established our claim; that the ER doctor failed to recognize coronary artery disease.
It immediately showed the massive damage that occurred because of the ER doctor's carelessness.
That's what you want to convey when someone asks you "Counsellor, what's this case about?"
You want to give a one or two sentence headline that makes their ears perk up.
You're really saying "HEY YOU! LISTEN TO THIS. IT'S IMPORTANT! TAKE NOTICE!"
Imagine if I started this trial this way...
"Mr. Oginski, you may proceed with your opening remarks," says the Judge.
I stand up and turn to the jury.
"This case involves the failure by an emergency room physician to recognize severe cardiac disease causing a massive heart attack three months later that killed off 70% of this young man's heart. Come join me on this tragic journey as I show you how this was all preventable..."
That will get the jury to sit up and take notice.
Now they're interested.
Now I have piqued their curiosity.
Now they're paying attention.
All because I used just one sentence to headline what this case was about.
How can you apply this when someone asks you to summarize what you just read or saw?
Think of the headline.
Think of the key issue.
Was there a dispute?
Was that the most important part of the article or book or movie?
Most of those can boil down into one or two main disputed issues.
As another example, we can read the newspapers and learn about all the mini scandals going on with the Trump administration.
Each article focuses on a new scandal.
Look at each headline.
It's designed to get you to read the sub-heading.
That sub-heading is designed to get you to read the article.
What's the key issue in each article?
"National Security Adviser tied to Russian Money!"
"President gave Russians Israeli Secrets!"
"President's advisor Kelly Ann Conway Was in it Just for the Money!"
These headlines grab your attention.
I don't care about your politics, nor should you care about mine.
I use these topics only to illustrate the importance of creating an eye-opening headline.
One that is factually correct and summarizes the one or two key issues in the article, book or movie.
Next time someone asks you about a popular movie you just saw, think about the key issue.
Then create a one sentence summary.
"The movie was about a woman in search of her biological birth mother who gave her up for adoption at birth. Thirty years later she travelled across the world to find this woman who lives in a tiny one bedroom cottage on the outskirts of town."
Hopefully you found this helpful.
To learn why it's not a good idea for an attorney to read his opening arguments, I invite you to watch the quick video below...
(See what I just did here? I gave you another headline talking about video below! Go watch right now!)