A personal story or an anecdote can provide an intimate look at the plaintiff’s life.
In a recent interview, attorney Jessica Dean spoke at length about her 20 years of experience in the courtroom fighting for working people against corporate malpractice. Dean is known for bringing some of the world’s largest corporations to heel, such as Revlon and Johnson & Johnson, and winning record-setting damages for her clients. She is a founding partner at Dean Omar Branham Shirley, LLP in Dallas, Texas.
During the interview, Jessica Dean offered a unique look into her personal life and her process of building a case. The following are some of her tips on how to manage the challenges, emotions, and workload involved in being a plaintiff’s attorney.
1. Surround Yourself with Passionate Role Models
Jessica Dean describes herself as an extrovert, and that may have been a major contributor to her growth over the years. To be successful in the field of law, you have to surround yourself with lawyers who are great at what they do. But winning cases and taking home paychecks is not what makes a lawyer an inspirational role model, according to Dean.
What matters is having passion for the work you do—passion for the job and passion for the changes you make in people’s lives. “Finding out what you care about through other people who have done it longer than you and can mentor you on that path is the most important thing you can do,” relates Dean.
Passion isn’t something you just have. It’s something you learn and are inspired to develop by surrounding yourself with the right people.
2. Discover What Motivates You
Motivation, like passion, is something that needs to be cultivated and explored over time. In Dean’s opinion, the key to finding your motivation as a lawyer is discovering how your passion connects to the law. That might involve fighting for a cause you care about, for example.
Motivation provides the stamina you need to do hard work without feeling totally drained. Even after the toughest days, the job is still fulfilling when you have a foundation based on your passion.
Jessica Dean admits to not knowing what motivated her at the beginning of her career. “I had no idea what motivated me, or what I cared about,” she says. For her, it wasn’t just about finding a cause. It was about finding people who were motivators and mentors.
“Finding someone who motivates you and who helps you in that pursuit can be life-changing.”
3. Channel Your Emotions into Success
Lawyers may come off as cold and calculating, but Dean has a history of using emotion in her arguments to send a powerful message. She describes how she once became angry with the other sides comments about her client and the anger was in her voice. The opposing counsel objected to the emotion Some lawyers reading the transcript assumed the emotion referenced in the objection were tears. It was not. This distinction matters to Dean who stated “I think anger and justice are much more motivating than sympathy,” Dean says. “I don’t want you to think I’m describing things to get your sympathy. I want you to understand there’s something wrong.”
Feeling sympathetic towards the plaintiff may be somewhat effective, but demonstrating your anger puts the spotlight on the corporation’s wrongdoing. Strong, visible emotions can have a lasting effect on juries.
4. Inspire Action with Hope
Anger isn’t the only emotion that can inspire a jury to take action. Jessica Dean also speaks of hope as a powerful motivator, especially when arguing for damages for loss of enjoyment of life. “People are motivated not by sadness but hope,” she says.
Instead of telling a sob story, which can make the jury feel as if they’re being manipulated, use this opportunity to personify the affected parties. A personal story or an anecdote can provide an intimate look at the plaintiff’s life. The jury will be able to draw their own conclusions on how the plaintiff’s life was affected while building a close connection with them.
Woman in seated meditation in the water at a lakeshore; image by Audrey Hope, via Reshot.com.For example, if a woman lost her husband, this could be an opportunity to talk about the quirks the couple had or the little affections the man showed to his wife — the moments and experiences that can’t be replicated.
“I think that motivates people in a more subtle way, but in a more powerful way,” Dean says.
5. Find a Healthy Way to Handle Stress
Jessica Dean admits to struggling to find a healthy work-life balance. As an attorney, long hours and emotionally draining situations are the norm. This is why it’s so important to find a way to “turn your head off,” as Dean puts it. She practices yoga as a way to move but also turn your head off.
Dean feels especially stressed after a case finishes. “I can win my best verdict or lose, and I still feel disconnected from my world,” she says. “I watch something like Moulin Rouge that makes me cry, and I have my own little process to get out of it.” Finding a way to let go of the stress is essential to continuing the work and remaining healthy.
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