The 54 year old French software engineer was sitting in the conference room of his Chicago lawyers. He was a key witness in a patent case. His deposition was a week away and there was a problem. His lawyers wanted to use a translator. They didn’t think he understood or spoke English well enough and that might make him vulnerable to certain lines of questioning.
He was upset at the thought of a translator and refused to have one. He thought his English was fine. Perhaps this was simple pride but there was also a job angle; his U. S. employer had paid for him to take extensive English lessons. He worried that the use of a translator might be viewed as a job failure on his part.
The solution proved simple. His lawyers video-recorded ten minutes of mock deposition questioning. Then they reviewed the mock exam with him. As he heard himself speak, he realized his English wasn’t as good as he thought. He couldn’t understand some of his own words! He had also misunderstood a few questions. His lawyers reassured him that there were tactical advantages to using a translator – it gave him more time to think about the question and his answer. He quickly agreed to the translator, and he had a good response if his boss ever questioned why he needed an interpreter. Lesson learned – let the witness solve the problem.
In another case, Jeanette was general counsel for a large French investment company. She was tall and elegant and charming. Her English was excellent, and she dressed beautifully. It’s been my experience that French women, at least in Paris, almost always seem to dress simply and beautifully.
A trial consultant was helping prepare Jeanette for trial in Los Angeles. The consultant, a woman, thought Jeanette was dressed too well for a Los Angeles state court jury and insisted that she dress down. A visit to Walmart perhaps? Jeanette had the consultant fired, and rightly so. Jeanette would not have been credible in polyester. She would have felt ill at ease and “out of her body.” Notwithstanding that Jeanette was dressed (suitably) in Coco Chanel or Christian Dior the jury found unanimously for the company. The consultant had made the common mistake of underestimating the jury and playing to its perceived social bias rather than trusting the jury’s capacity to recognize authenticity (and secretly admire class). Now, when I took over as the consultant, I focused on the gold pearl earrings rather than the dress but that is another story….
Image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sathishcj/3544624335