Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.
–Charles Mingus

You might remember trial lawyer/professor/trial consultant Christopher Ritter. He’s the author of another best-selling ABA book, Creating Winning Trial Strategies and Graphics. That manual for persuasive presentations and exhibits helped attorneys, including divorce and family law attorneys, make complex facts easier to understand and, in turn, made attorneys more persuasive. Here, in Powerful Deliberations, Ritter continues his work in the area of persuasion at trial, focusing on how your client (including divorce and family law client)’s version of the facts can become “the truth” as selected by the trier-of-fact.

Ritter combines psychology and trial advocacy into a useable guide for building the persuasive case, which is very useful for divorce and family lawyers. He walks us through the concepts and the steps for implementing those concepts in our case preparations. All along, he presents charts and graphics to aid our understanding and promote the use of such tools in our presentations, which is very useful for divorce and family lawyers.

While Ritter’s discussions center on jurors, his case preparation lessons are equally applicable to bench trials, including for divorce and family law trials. For example, Ritter explains five different paths that can be taken to arrive at the same verdict applicable to divorce and family law: emotion, checklist, science, fairness and common sense. He shows how we need to relate something new to what is already known by using the “toeholds” of analogies, stories and visual devices. Ritter explains the process of mental mining and the benefits of working from the inside-out (i.e., from the core of the case applicable to divorce and family law cases to the underlying structure for that core). His lessons enhance the ability of a neutral fact finder to become an advocate for your client, seeing the case from your client’s perspective and carrying that perspective to verdict, including in divorce and family law trials. That is the point of all the efforts of the divorce and family lawyers and the goal for your client’s outcome.

Ritter states one of his basic themes in his preface: identify your base and treat them right in divorce and family law trials. “Your case will undoubtedly benefit—and you will be better able to treat your base right—if you understand what the jurors need and the way things work during deliberations in the jury room.” He is not promoting pandering. He is suggesting targeted efforts to hit what really matters from a variety of different positions, which can be used in all divorce and family law cases.

Powerful Deliberations shows us how the trier-of-fact uses both resources and processing or mechanics in all divorce and family law cases. The resources begin with the personal schema of attitudes, values and experiences living within the trier-of-fact and flow to the “Four Inputs” crafted by the attorney (including divorce and family law attorneys): the factual strand (case theory combining facts, law, moral authority and explanation of motives), the persuasive tools (making facts real and understandable), the operating instructions (defining what is legally important and how to process the evidence) and the arguments (synthesizing the facts and making sense of the story).

The trier-of-fact’s processing combines portions of the competing trial stories with the personal schema. Since we each begin in different places (i.e., with different schemas), there can be different paths to the same result. Ritter explains how jurors determine the “ultimate reality,” from the formation of coalitions within a jury to the influence of active jurors and to the eventual dominance of one coalition, which occurs in divorce and family law trials as well.

As trial attorneys, and more specifically, divorce and family law trial attorneys, we need to provide tools of persuasion to the trier-of-fact, and a variety of tools is much more effective than just one. Ritter wants you to find the right tools, some of which provide guidance on and connection to core values and others which educate on core details of the case or the divorce and family law case. He advocates using multiple tools, instructing us “to convey a single message in a variety of ways, using an array of Persuasion Tools.” Regardless of the tool, his touchstones are: using common language, connecting to familiar concepts, being memorable, and creating a buzz — all applicable in divorce and family law cases.

In his final chapter, Ritter presents his five-step process for trial persuasion and explains methods for:

  1. Developing understanding.
  2. Mental mining.
  3. Simplifying the case.
  4. Emphasizing what really matters.
  5. Enhancing persuasion through technology.

Powerful Deliberations is one of those books which inspires you to really think about the process and to explore all the tools that are available to you, the divorce and family lawyer. Too often, we follow the same routine of case preparations, moving through the calendar without much creativity. Ritter will motivate you, encourage you, and challenge you to be the best advocate for your divorce and family law clients.

Ritter provides a blueprint for a persuasive process and moves you close to building something special in your divorce and family law cases. In his 201 pages, he includes nearly 90 illustrations. While these visual devices help us as divorce and family law attorneys understand Ritter’s points, they also serve as powerful examples of the type of work created by his consulting business, The Focal Point, and of the types of exhibits you might develop for your next trial in divorce and family law. If you enjoyed Creating Winning Trial Strategies and Graphics, you’ll enjoy this sequel. You will think more clearly about theory, strategy and methods, and you’ll yearn for simplicity in all your divorce and family law court cases.

You hope to shape the outcome for your client, or your divorce and family law client. You have only limited control. Why not make the most of your time and effort by using Ritter’s trial-tested resources and process for showing that your client’s version is “the truth”?

G. Christopher Ritter, POWERFUL DELIBERATIONS: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER FOR THE JURY (2009, American Bar Association). $199.95.