So I’m doing this blog post on opening lines, and I’m stuck on the first sentence.
We obsess over the first lines of our openings, the first question we ask on cross and the first argument to present in our briefs. I spend more time ruminating on attention grabbing first sentences than on any other part of my blog posts.
Despite knowing that first impressions last, and that people are more likely to remember the first thing they hear (primacy), until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to how I introduce myself to clients. For years, I passed people my card rambling, “My name is Renate Lunn, I work for the Legal Aid Society. The judge has assigned me to represent you.” By the end of an 8-hour-shift arraigning new clients, my introduction devolved into, “myname’srenatelunniworkforlegalaidimyourlawyer.”
I was inspired to step up my introduction game while training new attorneys last fall. For nearly two years, I had a break from the weight of a full caseload and developed trainings as part of Legal Aid’s Training Unit. I relished the opportunity to take a step back from my practice and contemplate: What defines an outstanding public defender? What kind of skills and support does someone need to become one? I read articles and books about client communications and developed trainings for new attorneys that wove together theoretical concepts and practical tips based on my years of experience. Now that I have returned to life with a full caseload, living up to my defender ideal challenges me, to say the least. Striving to implement what I’ve learned and become a better attorney, however, has renewed my passion for the work.
Let’s go back to a conference room at Legal Aid headquarters last fall where I was coaching a small group of lawyers. In a mock interview, one new attorney introduced himself to his client with, “I work for you. Not the judge. Not the prosecutor. I’m on your side.” A light bulb went off over my head. What a clear and succinct way to address the stereotypes that haunt us! I had thought of introductions as something to race through on the way to the meat of the interview— discussing the charges and providing legal advice. I couldn’t believe that I had neglected to use the power of primacy to set the tone for the attorney-client relationship.
The great thing about teaching is you learn so much from your students.
I have since appropriated this opening line. My clients respond with a surprised raise of the eye brows followed by a satisfied nod. I’m still refining my introductory patter, and indeed trying to avoid thinking of it as rote patter would probably be a good place to start. There must be a way to explain attorney-client privilege, for example, without sounding like an announcer listing the side effects of prescription medication on a commercial.
So what’s your opening line?