In this episode of the Wealthy Woman Lawyer podcast, we sit down with a nationally recognized coach, speaker, and trial consultant— special guest Sari de la Motte. Sari specializes in helping trial lawyers communicate effectively with jurors.
When Sari isn’t busy helping trial lawyers improve their communication skills, she’s speaking about her brand new book— From Hostage To Hero: Captivate The Jury By Setting Them Free, published by Trial Guides. Sari is also the host of the Hostage to Hero podcast where she shares insight and advice on how to captivate your jury.
We chat with Sari about the nonverbal communication skills she teaches to help attorneys become better presenters, the three aspects of communication, as well as…
- The benefits of learning how to be a great storyteller
- Finding liberation by embracing the “money” conversation
- Why you need to start taking more risks, making decisions and risking failure
- How Sari works with her clients to achieve success
- What she means by “we’re all hostages in court”
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast. Our mission is to provide thought-provoking, powerful and practical information to help you in creating your own sustainable wealth-generating law firm without overwork or overwhelm so you can live your best life. I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m here today with Sari da la Motte, nationally recognized coach, speaker and trial consultant.
Sari has trained extensively and is an expert in nonverbal communication. She specializes in helping trial lawyers communicate effectively with jurors. She also is the author of the brand new book, From Hostage To Hero: Captivate the Jury By Setting Them Free. And she’s the host of the Hostage To Hero Podcast. So I’m really excited to welcome Sari to the podcast today. Sari, we’re so glad you’re here.
Sari de la Motte: Thanks for having me.
Davina: Wonderful. So I’ve got lots of questions for you today. So much I want to know. I have been following your work for a number of years now. And you and I both share an interest in nonverbal communication. But that’s your profession. And so I’ve got lots of questions. But I think I want to start out letting people get to know you a little bit. So if you could tell us, I love your sort of history and trajectory into this work. So if you could start out telling us a little bit about your background, that would be great.
How Sari Became A Nationally Recognized Coach and Bestselling Author
Sari: Yeah, it’s funny because oftentimes, I will have people say to me, normally like high school kids when I go speak at kind of work things and they’ll say, how do you become a trial consultant and do what you’re doing? I say I have no idea.
Davina: Right, right.
Sari: I dropped into this career and kind of got dragged into it. But my training, as you know Davina, is in music. I have, I’m a classically trained pianist, I have two advanced degrees in music and thought that that was where my life was heading. I was on my way to get a doctorate in piano pedagogy, which is how to teach piano. Notice, I didn’t say concert pianist because I didn’t want to perform. I really wanted to teach. I love teaching.
And before I did that, as my master’s program, my mentor said, you need to go to the nonverbal communication training, and I said why? And she said, because it’ll make you a better teacher. So of course, I went. I love teaching. And I was expecting all the body language stuff, you know, here’s what this means when somebody blinks and here’s what it means when someone scratches their left, you know, earlobe. And it wasn’t any of that. It was totally how do you come across?
How can you hone in on your own communication, group dynamics, presentation skills? And I got to tell you, I was hooked. I was just hooked. I went up to the man who was teaching it, I said, How do I get trained in this? And he says, I really don’t offer training in this, to anyone except for like, I think he was doing classroom teachers at the time.
And I said, Okay, and I went home and I looked at the website, if saw he can be in Minnesota the next week, and the next month he was going to be in Louisiana. And I came back the next day and I said, what happens if I show up where you are? Can I observe? And he said, Sure. And that’s what I did for a year. I trained myself. I flew all over the United States. I observed his training, took him out to dinner, asked all kinds of questions, and then came back and hung my shingle out and said, This is what I’m doing now. I’m a bit impulsive.
Davina: I love so much about that story because of, you know, just the initiative that you took to make this happen for yourself, you know? And this, the person you took the train from is no, you know, he’s no average Joe, right? He’s very well known.
Sari: He’s Michael Grinder. He’s quite well-known and he is the brother of John Grinder, who Grinder and Bandler are the ones that came up with NLP, or Neuro Lingual Programming. Wait, am I saying that wrong? NLP, Neuro Linguistic Programming. And so they’re quite big in the psychology world. Michael kind of took it off into the educational world. And that’s kind of where I started too because that’s what he did. He trained teachers. So I thought well, I’ll start training teachers. We might just work in the teacher training world. My sister was a teacher, so she was kind of like my first portal into the nonverbal communication training world.
And then from there, I started doing corporate training. And then from there, a lawyer saw me, The Oregonian did something on new businesses. They used to have this little thing on the Oregonian. And a lawyer called me said, Can you help me pick a jury? And I thought to myself, I don’t know. But I had enough gumption to say yes because I was too curious to see what it was all about. And anyone who knows, anyone who’s trial lawyer knows you can’t kind of do this work. You’re either in or out baby. So over the years, I became more than 100% dedicated to trial lawyers and that’s all the work we do now.
Davina: Right. Well, and I would imagine that it’s while trial work is presentation, it’s very different from presentations in a corporate environment where you’re, you know, teaching or training or that kind of thing. It’s so, the more deeply you go into it, the better you’re going to be at it. So I could see how you sort of got, you know, sucked down the, you know, attorneys do that. They, we tend to suck people into our world and into our lives and take it over.
Sari: Well, just with your jargon alone, summary judgment, this and, you know, motion lemony that. I mean, I, when I first began, I knew what the heck I was talking about in terms of non-verbals and otherwise, but I had no idea what those terms meant. And so it was a lot of reading, it was a lot of mentoring. I was very lucky that my first mentor in the plaintiff world was Rick Friedman. He was one of the most famous trial attorneys in the world.
And that, one of my first speaking engagements in the trial attorney world was for Inner Circle of Advocates, which is one of the top 100 trial attorneys in the United States. I’m very lucky in some ways that I got connected quickly at that time, in the right place in the right time. But there was so much to learn that I didn’t know outside of communication just in your world so that I could bring my work into it. And yeah, that was a big, big part of it, for sure.
Davina: I can tell you, as an attorney who’s done trial work and who sat in many courtrooms and observed other attorneys, it’s definitely an area where, you know, we could use the help, quite frankly. Because, first of all, it’s a very high-pressure situation. And, you know, when you’re in that, when you’re doing trial work, because there’s so much at stake no matter, it could be somebody’s livelihood, or their life even, you know?
And it’s something that, you know, unless you’re like on, you know, trial team or moot court or something, you’re not getting that trial experience when you’re in law school and even then, that’s just a tiny, tiny aspect of it. And I promise you, they don’t teach anything about nonverbal communication, you know?
The Fourth Piece of Communication
Sari: Oh, I know. This is what I, and this is the funny part is that, you know, when I first got into this, I thought, well, I’m just going to teach the delivery, right? I always teach that there’s three pieces of communication. There’s the content of what you’re saying, there’s the delivery, that’s how you’re saying it, and then there’s the reception, how is it being received by your audience. And great communicators have an eye on all three. And as we know, attorneys almost always just focus on content, right?
That’s what you’re taught. That’s what most of your time is spent on in law school. And so I thought, well, you guys have the content nailed down. So I’m just going to help me with the delivery. And then these opening statements are coming and they do so terrible. That I was like, I can help you deliver this but it doesn’t make any sense. And so that’s really a big part of learning your world and learning what it was you were trying to do.
And as you were saying, it’s different than the corporate world, and it so is in that trial trees have to be teachers of medical terms and science and different things depending on your case. But they also have to be great storytellers. And then they also have to deal with resistance. And they have to talk about money, which is something that no one ever wants to talk about in our society. It was funny, I told my husband, I’m like, I’m going to be on Wealthy Women Lawyer Podcast, and he kind of like, had this reaction.
And I said, What’s that? And he’s like, Oh, wealthy. I don’t know. I just feel dirty. I’m like, That’s exactly right. We think that don’t we? When we talk about money. I mean, I love that you picked the name of this podcast because it’s like this is, you know, in my world, which is mostly plaintiff, civil plaintiff, I work with some criminal defense as well, but it’s what are we arguing over?
Money. And that’s a difficult thing to do. So yes, it is, it’s very high stakes. I think that’s why I’m drawn to it. Because, you know, for my clients, they’re advocating for people who have been hurt and injured by large corporations or other people. And a lot is on the line. Not just their own money. As we all know, you have to put up your own money if you’re a plaintiff and you don’t get it back if you go to trial. But the client, this is their only chance at restitution and you better get it right. And that’s a lot of pressure.
Davina: Right, right. And so there’s so much there. One of the things I want to say about the name of the podcast is that’s why I named it that and I have really gotten a strong reaction to it because I want women law firm owners, you have to be comfortable talking about money, asking for money for your services, being comfortable with being wealthy and dealing with all your money, your old money stories around what, you know, about money and wealth, you know?
Because we have so many negative connotations in our minds about it a lot of times to hold us back. So imagine that if you’re trying to, you have those money stories in your head, and then you’re trying to do things for clients.
Sari: But we, and this is the same in trial world. The reason I rates aren’t higher in many cases is because we’re afraid to ask. When I went out to work with a client in Texas, actually three clients, there’s three plaintiffs and three attorneys representing and they were asking for 100 million dollars in that case. Two deaths and a cyclist that was severely injured. And so the whole week I was there I said, we are going to say 100 million dollars, or 100 million so many times that becomes second nature.
We walk in in the morning of, I mean, you look like 100 million bucks. My god, it’s 100 million degrees outside. Why? So that we get totally, completely normalize that word because I see so many trial attorneys to stand in front of a jury and go We are asking and then they step back, for $10 million? I’m like, Oh my God. No one’s gonna give you $10 million. And you’re not owning it. And it’s because of our stuff with money,
Davina: Because we let our own, you know, like, that’s more money, you know, than we can conceive of, you know? Like, what would I do? You know, what does that look like? And so that, I’m going to steal that from you and I’m going to talk to, I’m going to be talking to all my clients and make them go around just talking with them about creating million-dollar revenue-generating practices. Generating a million dollars a year for them has, is just like, I’ll have a conversation and they’re just not even, they’re like, I can’t, you know, they don’t even understand like, what that can do for them and how it would change their life.
Sari: It’s especially for women as you know, Davina. I mean, it’s just, I’m running a women’s coaching group right now with just woman trial attorneys. There’s a nine women in the group. And month one guess what month one was? It was what do you want? And month one, just totally they did not know how to answer that question. And you’re like, Oh my god, sorry, this is the hardest thing ever.
I mean, they just like couldn’t like even wrap their mind around want. And I think we are trained as women, I think as humans, but especially women not to want, not to believe we can have what we want. And so we’re trained to give, give, give. I mean, I tell you every morning I write in my morning pages multimillion-dollar consultant. And have I made multi-millions? Not yet, but I will. I will, and I’ll get there.
Davina: We first got to be able to speak it, you know? And also, you know, I think a lot of times people will throw out numbers and they don’t because they’ll think well, you know, I’m supposed to want a million-dollar this or that, a million dollars or, you know, whatever now, and then when you say what will that do for you? What, you know, and connecting with how it changed in your life and what it can do for you and what you really want that’s behind the money right?
So once you kind of help people get clear on what’s behind money, what it is that, what life costs, you know, what it costs to have a good retirement, what it costs to put your kids through school, you know, maybe private school, maybe college educations, maybe Ivy League colleges. I mean, what do you want for your children, right? What does all of that cost, and associating with that with your ability and your power to earn, you know, to create, right?
Sari: Well, it’s, you know, it’s so funny because last year, I decided I wanted to, I think it was almost double my normal rate. There was no one who came to me and said, you know, you’re ready to do this. So there’s no one who said, you know, what, I’d like for you to charge me more. I just was like, you know what, this is what my time was worth. And I’m done playing small. And so I threw it out there and guess what, people paid it. End of story. And that’s what I think women, they get in this position of they’re waiting, they’re waiting for permission, they’re waiting for someone to tell them they’re ready.
And they just need to decide. Nobody told me, here’s how you become a trial consultant. I was just like, I’m gonna figure this out. And it’s the same thing with money. You get to define how much you’re worth. And once you decide what it is, and this is the same for your cases as a trial attorney, and you believe it in your bones and your tissues, other people will believe it too. That’s how it works. Not the other way around.
Davina: Right, right. So I have, I want to, we kind of moved down this direction and I love it. That brings me to a question that I have that I guess segues nicely to this, which is, you know, the differences you’ve seen between men and women as trial attorneys because I have a strong opinion on it so I’m curious what you see about men and women as trial attorneys.
Sari: What do you mean specifically, like juries view them or
Davina: Well, like how they see themselves when they first come to you, how are they presenting themselves? And is it different from the way men present themselves when they first come to you when they’re trying to work on their skills? Do they approach it differently? Because I’ll tell you what, why I’m asking the question.
I tend to see, I’ve had conversations with hundreds of hundreds of women attorneys and women law firm owners, and so many women will select non-litigation work because I think it’s that whole, not that there’s anything wrong with transactional work and not being successful in a transactional world. But I think a lot of women might love trial work if they didn’t feel so uncomfortable with it.
Sari: Women are terrific at trial work. That said, 95% of my clients are older white men.
Davina: Right, right. This is what I’m saying.
Sari: Yeah. So today I had Randy McGinn again, who is the ultimate badass trial attorney. And she’s one of the seven women in the Inner Circle of Advocates. She took the bar exam the day after giving birth, raised a child by herself. She’s just the ultimate badass. And she was, as she was saying, you know, her and I have talked if she was going to be on the webinar, when I talked before about how what she noticed when she got out of law school is how all these women would go into litigation.
They would lose their first trial and they quit. And I think that the only reason for that is women have been trained that we need to be perfect, right? Remember when super, not super, Wonder Woman came out and everyone was like, Oh, this isn’t a great movie. You know what? Men can make shitty movies all day long. Women, we have one movie and like
Davina: The whole Marvel comic series.
Sari: Exactly. We have one, you know, female superhero movie it’s got to be perfect. And I see the same thing with women. They are less willing to risk because they are judged more harshly. I will totally agree with that. But in my, I think it’s a podcast episode 40, I say how women should behave in court which of course you know, I’m playing with words there.
My answer to that however they damn well please, and women are always like Yeah, but Sari we get judged so much harder for it. And I said you know what, somebody’s gotta go first. What’s the other option here? Is it to continue to cower and play safe and not take risks? Do the men that take risks have an easier? Yes. That’s not an excuse for us not to do it either. Someone’s gotta go first. Somebody went first before us.
Someone broke the glass ceiling for us right now here today. These women are the ones that are going to do it for the next generation by taking risks and wearing your red suit and court are all the other stupid bullshit you’ve been told not to do. That’s what I see, is that women are less willing to risk because they’re judged harshly. And yes, it is a big job that we have to undertake but someone has to undertake it. That is my view on that.
Davina: I wonder if, so I think certainly society does judge women harshly. I also, but I think women do this to themselves as well. I call it high acheiving woman syndrome. Like, the reason why so many women struggle to make the kind of money, the kind of wealth that they could make in business is because high achieving women are usually really good students.
And they, so they make, you know, they graduate top of the class, they graduate in top-class law school, they are, they’re used to being graded and winning and achieving and that kind of thing. But then when they get into the business world and you become the business owner, there’s no authority figure. There’s no one there to give you the grade and the gold star. And everything in a business you have to be willing to take risk, make decisions and risk failure, which is very, very real in owning a business.
You’re going to fail at something when you own a business. Right. Exactly. And that is so hard on ego of high achieving women. And I think that kind of plays out in trial work too. You know, it’s a, if you get out there and you fail by not winning, then it’s like, you got an F on a report or something. You know, there’s, it’s so, hits so deep, whereas men are just like, okay, on to the next one.
Sari: Right. I mean, what was it? What was that I saw that meme that said, I wish I had the self-confidence of a mediocre white man, right? I mean, I love my white men clients. Don’t get me wrong. But I think the point is, is that yes, women take it very, very hard. And I also see women being very hard on each other. And I think it’s because it’s a scarcity mentality. We see women succeeding and we think that’s taking away from us. Like, there’s so little success to go around for us women. We’re fighting over the scraps. So when we see someone, we tear her down. We don’t support her and I see this constantly in this industry.
And it’s too bad because I think if we actually came together as women and lift each other up and explored how to fail and be with failure and take risks, we would just take the world by storm. But because we think there’s a lack of success, like there’s an infinite number, or there’s a finite number and we can only have, there’s only enough success to go around. You know, we see someone make it big and we tear her down because something inside of us says Well, she’s taken from me. And nothing could be farther from the truth.
Davina: So I, so that leads me to wondering if, you know, when you have women on juries, and you have women trial lawyers presenting cases, if you’re women, women lawyers have to do things differently than men do because of the women in the jury, on the jury, you know?
Normalizing Authenticity In the Courtroom
Sari: Well, I tell you that in our mock juries, because those are the ones where I get the feedback, the people who are hardest, the mock jurors that are hardest on our female attorneys that do come through our studio classes are women jurors. So I’m going to confirm your sanity there and say, Yes, I think you’re right that the women jurors are much harder on the female attorneys.
Does that mean that the female attorneys should be doing things differently? Hell, no. That’s what I was talking about earlier is somebody’s got to show up differently and show all of our jurors, male and female, it’s safe to be who I am, it’s authentic to be who I am. Now, this doesn’t mean we’re not reading the group and doing all the great communication things that I teach. You don’t want to come out and be an asshole or a jerk or, you know, those kinds of things just because we can.
But when you start dressing how you wouldn’t normally dress or you put your hair back because you learn that in a CLE, when you really are more comfortable with your hair down, or whatever the case may be. Or you don’t really get into storytelling because you’re afraid that jurors are going to think you’re too dramatic. That’s why I’m saying we are now sacrificing our soul in order to win the case. And is that really what we want to do? I think no. I think we need to start showing up as real authentic and normalize that, even if we lose a few so that we can really enjoy this work at trial.
Davina: You know what’s really interesting about that too, is I bet if you did, like first of all, I hate to wear my hair up, so you really hit a chord with me there. I even wear my hair down. I have long hair and I even wear it down when I go out and walking and stuff and it’ll be 90 degrees outside, I’m gonna let my hair down. I grew it long to wear long and down. I imagine that your body, because your body can’t lie.
Your body can’t lie. And this, which is the whole thing behind nonverbal communication, right? Your body is going to send messages that may not match with your words so if you’re trying to be somebody other than yourself because you learned it in CLE, you know? I imagined that you would be so much less effective because we pick up as human beings, micro-expressions, and we pick up on all sorts of signals that don’t comport with what we’re hearing, right?
Sari: Well, you’ve heard me say a million times, Davina, body language starts in the brain, right? What you think you will communicate. And so when you’re not comfortable going to communicate you’re uncomfortable. You know, I was speaking at CAALA this last fall, the CAALA Women’s Conference for female trial attorneys and this woman came up to me and she wears a hijab. And she said, I’m really worried about it. No it wasn’t the woman with the hijab, it was a woman who had a real thick accent.
She’s from Mexico, she has a really thick accent and she said, I’m really worried about the jurors and what they think about my accent. And she kept going with I’m really worried about the jurors. And I said, You know what, the first thing you need to worry about is what you think about your accent. You are communicating right now that you have a problem with it. The minute that you own it, and communicate proudly with your accent, you will teach people how to treat you. And that is the first place to go.
And the same with the woman with the hijab because I’ve had that question too. You know how I deal with it? I was like, you gotta own it. This is who you are. And when you show up in that way, people will respond but we come in with Oh my God, I’m worried about my accent or my hijab, but whatever. Then we communicate that exactly non verbally or otherwise.
Davina: Right. So let me ask you, like I think a lot of women attorneys who are so freakin smart and so sharp and good at what they do are so anxious about being in the courtroom that they, that it holds them back in their career. And they don’t, they choose the safe route, right? Because they have anxiety about being in the courtroom. And what would, what kind of advice would you have for women like that who really could do it, but they have so much fear around it?
Sari: Well, I would, couple things. I think that’s across the board. Men have a lot of fear around it too.
Davina: Do they?
Here’s the Group That Needs Me
Sari: But oh, yeah, I mean, this is why I went, you know, going back to my trajectory, I first thought all the delivery part and I was like, Oh man, I gotta help them write, actually write their opening statements. And then I started doing this and I was about 10 years in and I was like, Oh my god, there’s been all this mindset work that I’m gonna do. So I went back and got my coach’s training, right? So now I offer all of it you know, strategy, messaging delivery, mindset work, you know, it’s all one thing.
And because I kept hearing from attorneys of all genders, that, you know, they’re freaked out about being in the courtroom, and that’s really what my book is about is this idea that jurors are hostages, they don’t want to be there. And when you come in with your fear, you heighten their fear. And so when you come in and realize it’s not about you, it’s, I think that’s what the problem is, is that attorneys think that they’re in the spotlight.
They’re, they’ve got to show up well, present perfectly, do this whole thing. And when they start to go, Wait a minute, I’m not the person I should be focusing on. I need to focus on these 12 or six or eight individuals in the box, that are totally been plucked out of their lives, had no say about it, are worried about how they’re going to pay their bills if they have to be here for three weeks.
My job is to show up for them, who’s good at showing up for other people, may I ask you? It’s women, right? They’ve got the advantage. They’re the caretakers and the nurturers. If they come in and instead of going here’s this group that is going to judge me and they change their mindset to here’s the group that needs me, that changes everything. Which is why my book starts with the mindset shift.
Is that I mean, I talked about jurors with hostages, but the next chapter is you’re a hostage too. And what are attorneys hostages of? Fear. Fear, fear, fear. So we’ve got to let go of limiting beliefs of winning is the only acceptable outcome or I’ve got to be like a famous trial attorney to win, or I’ve got to, you know, get rid of all my flaws. None of that is true. You only have to show up as real and authentic.
And juror responds to that because they’re just regular people. The minute we try to put on a show, we try to be like somebody else, to try to act all big for our britches, that’s when the whole thing just goes down the tubes. And I’ve seen that, you know, Gerry Spence is a terrific trial attorney and watching a Gerry Spence is like nothing else. But watching someone try to do a Gerry Spence is the worst thing in the world. Why? Because Gerry Spence is very, very good at one thing, and that’s being Gerry Spence.
That’s what he’s good at. And so when you can turn around your fear and just own the shit out of your greatness and show up for the jurors and give instead of, and try to receive. I was just in a podcast episode on this, we got to balance the scales. What do we do? We come and trial, we just ask. We ask we ask we ask. We demand things from jurors, we demand they come down there, we demand they talk to us, we demand they tell us the truth, we demand they go in and give us a verdict.
What are we giving? What are we giving them? Let’s start there. And so I think that shift from Oh, this isn’t about me, me in the spotlight me getting it right. It’s about giving, about showing up for the jury. It’s about leading them, it’s about telling them about this case, it’s about talking about my client, then your experience will start to shift. Take your stuff off of you and put it where it belongs. It belongs on these jurors that are in box freaked out not knowing how to do their job.
Davina: Right, right. Because what, I mean, we’re accustomed to the law and the complexities and the rules and all of those kinds of things. And you got jurors there. This is like, this is a really out of the ordinary day for them. I mean, you know, day a week, however long it is, right? For them, and they’re, they don’t know. They don’t know, there just told go from this place to this place. And, you know, they don’t get a say and I had so
Sari: Yeah we put stickers on them and
Davina: Is that what made you come up with the word hostage in your, for your book? I mean, what, at what point, did you, it dawn on you that we’re all hostages in that courtroom?
Sari: Well, you know, it really was this whole choice. Jurors don’t have a choice. And then when people don’t have choice, they make bad decisions. That’s always a bad, that’s always, that’s never turned out good for the plaintiff. We’re the ones who brought the suit, we want them to do something, and the easiest thing to do is nothing when you want to get out of there. So that’s where I started with the book is how do we get people to want to be there? Right? That’s when good decisions get made.
I will make the quickest, fastest decision to get out of there back to my family, right? So how do I get them to want to be there? Well, the first thing is to recognize their hostages. We come into the courtroom and we tell jurors right off the bat they’re, you’re so important. You’re the most important people in the room. And they look at us like, Are you kidding me? I don’t feel important. I can’t choose to go home right now. I have a sticker on my thing I don’t want to be wearing and this coffee is terrible.
And I have to ask permission when I go to the bathroom and I can’t talk to anybody. I don’t feel important. And so I think when we get that, that jurors are hostages, that we’ve literally demanded they come down and demand that they talk to us and demand that they tell us the truth. Once we get that and we get into their experience and understand their frustration, they’ve been a lot of work out there about understanding your client, your clients’ experiences, communicating that.
I’ve rarely seen anyone talk about the jurors’ experience. I think I’m one of the first. When we get the jurors’ experience, we can speak to it, we can work with it, we can turn the experience around for all of us because I, you know, I used to ask in seminars, who is the enemy at trial? You know what most of my trial attorneys would do? They’d shout out the juror.
Davina: Oh, wow.
Sari: These are the people that are gonna kill my case. I’m afraid of these people. And so what I really wanted to do in the book is say they’re not your enemy. They are hostages. They need leadership. They need you. And I can’t tell you how many have come to me and said this has absolutely changed my experience in the courtroom. Looking at these people not as my enemy, but as people who need some direction and support for me has just changed everything. And that’s what I was hoping to do with the book.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. I love that. I love that. And that really, having you know, I’ve served on a jury and that’s the feeling. I actually got called for jury duty after my first semester of law school. I had a three-week break between them and the next semester was. and it was, you know, brutal law school for me. And I had that three weeks and that’s when I got called for jury duty. I was like, Oh my god, I cannot sit here on this jury, you know, for this period of time. I just got a few days off from the misery that is my life.
Sari: No, thank you.
Davina: Yeah, yeah, it was really, you know, and, you know, it’s like you think Oh, you’re gonna be fascinated by this process. No. Oh. Are you kidding me? I want to go sit by a pool someplace. So I completely understand that. I love that shift that you made in attorney’s minds with that concept of Hostage to Hero. And so we shift into being a hero because we’ve become the leader that sort of shepherds in through this process. Is that what you’re saying?
Sari: Well, let’s look at what the definition of hero is. A hero is someone who takes selfless action for the benefit of others. So that’s what you’re helping jurors to do. But that’s why when I was writing the book, I really recognized that jurors are told not to do. You know, attorneys are hostages of their own fear, and that hostages can’t lead other hostages, right? You’ve got to free yourself first. So once you free yourself of your limiting beliefs, of your belief says, you know, I’ve got to be like so and so trial attorney or winning is the only acceptable outcome or, you know, losing means I’m a bad trial attorney.
That’s a big one. If I lose I’m a bad trial attorney. But listen, if you didn’t want to become, if you don’t want to be a loser, you shouldn’t become a lawyer. And losing is part of the game. It is, it’s part of what this job requires, quite frankly. We don’t win all the time. And it has no say on what kind of attorney you are. But once we get rid of those limiting beliefs, then we can shift like I’ve been talking about.
Our focus on ourselves and all of our insecurities to helping these jurors become the hero because that’s what we’re asking them to do, are we not? We’re saying will you help this person you don’t even know? Will you take and do selfless action that’s not going to benefit you, although it will benefit you. And that’s what plaintiffs attorneys do is they create a safer world. In fact, plaintiff attorneys are the only thing between us and corporate greed. I’m telling you right now. They’re the ones that are keeping us safe.
And what we’re doing is we’re helping the jurors become the hero that they were always meant to be. But you can’t become a hero when you feel forced. You know, I tell a story in the book about, you know, a man’s walking down the street and he sees this woman and she’s in the window and there’s smoke pouring out, she’s holding a baby and he drops what he’s doing and he runs up the fire escape and he rescues her. And that’s heroism. Now imagine the same thing but someone comes up with a gun and points it at his head and says to get up there and rescue her.
I mean, the action is the same, but it’s not heroic because there’s no choice. Choice is left out of the equation. And so that’s the same for jurors is that getting them to want to be there and be at the moment of choice is what allows them to now move out of hostage status and eventual hero status when they actually go back there and fight for the plaintiff and do what’s right. But they’ve got to be given the option to do that, not forced to do that.
Davina: Right. Right. Love that. And what do you think, I mean, you know, I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times because I know I’ve heard it. And that is when attorneys go in and they say, you know, I’m sure you’ve watched attorneys on television. And this is in a real courtroom, it’s not like television, you know? And then we go into this sort of story about comparing it because that’s in the jurors’ minds, right?
We know it’s in the jurors’ minds and we’re trying to address that. But a lot of improving your trial skills really is about addressing that issue because it is so different. What you see on television and in movies, you know, I’m dating myself here, but I’m talking about, you know, LA Law, Arnie Becker and Ally McBeal on, you know, all of that. All of these. And then of course, you know, just the current show. I mean, I’ve had some, what, The Good Wife. And
Sari: Bull. Everyone tells me about Bull. Have you seen Bull? I’m like, Oh, my God, I’m not watching that. But yeah,
Davina: My husband’s always telling me, do we have to turn this off? Because I’m like, that wouldn’t happen. That would never happen in a real courtroom. He’s like, are we gonna have to turn this off. I’m like, no. I’ll behave.
Sari: That’s why I can’t watch Bull. It’s like really? No.
Davina: Right. Right, right.
Sari: I think it’s absolutely right. Jurors have this kind of sense of what they think it’s going to be. And attorneys are worried about that. And I will say, attorneys use that as an excuse to stay mediocre and not, you know, they’re like, it’s not like it’s on TV. Well, yeah. But these are still people who are bored out of their minds, and you have a job to keep them engaged in the process and with your content. And that’s done non verbally.
So yes, it’s not going to be like it’s on TV. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to be boring and speak in a monotone voice and not use any gesture. You got to keep them engaged with you in the process. So and, so I hear what you’re saying. But I also think that attorneys use that as an excuse to not get better.
Davina: Right, right. I like that. Do you, what do you think is the most challenging part? I know you do a lot with a voir dire and do, you know, and working with attorneys on that process, but what do you, is that the most challenging part like that setting that tone right from the beginning with jury selection and setting the tone with you with them with what’s about to happen.
The Overlooked Importance of Voir Dire
Sari: Oh gosh, hell yes. When I first started I was surprised because everyone kept telling me that was the part of trial they hated. And I was so surprised. I was like, Really? That’s the part? You just like talk to the jurors. And they’re like, Yeah, but that’s the problem. See, it goes back to this idea of them, a couple things. They think the juror’s the enemy, they treat voir dire as, or voir dire as it is in Texas, but they treat it as interrogation. It’s like cross-exam, right? And so it’s just a mess. And what I realized is the reason why attorneys were so afraid of voir dire is the one part of trial that is totally unscripted, right?
You can compare your opening, compare closing, compare direct and cross. And yes, there are, you know, bumps and things you have to deal with. I always say it’s like classical versus jazz, right? As a classically trained musician, I can tell you that the scariest day of music school is when we walked into a class called Advanced Keyboard Skills. And she flipped up all the pianos on and she said, Okay, we’re gonna start by improvising. You could have heard a pin drop. We’re like what? We read from the score, excuse me.
And I feel like it’s kind of the same with voir dire is that hey, the rest of the trial I can control or I have my part under control. Voir dire is a total out of control. And you got these crazy things like people telling attorneys to memorize scripts for, something like me memorizing a script for today’s podcast interview. It’s not possible. So I think that’s the reason why it’s so hard for attorneys as they can prepare their side of the conversation, but they have no idea what the jurors are going to say.
And so I think vior dire and that’s where most of my time is spent. That’s, I’m one of the few people in the United States that really focuses so much on voir dire. And I think it’s because it’s the most important part of trial and it’s also the most fun when you let go of your stuff and you just get in there and you get curious and you are just with the jurors and you’re just dropping in conversational pieces and you’re seeing what the group does with it. That’s when this work gets fun. But you got to let go of this sense of control in order to be able to do that.
Davina: I always loved jury selection because that’s where I planted seeds. In the question that I asked the jury, that’s where I planted seeds for what was coming up. And so I
Sari: I would tell my attorneys that’s where you source all your information. You get all your information from the jurors that you know, you’re going to talk about later. You’re absolutely right. It’s all there. Mm-hmm.
Davina: Yeah. I love that. So you, so what inspired you to write the book? What made you finally decide, you know, I really need to put this in a book?
Sari: I’ve always wanted to write a book ever since I was 13 years old. So, and I wanted to, you know, have it published by a publisher. And so Trial Guides happens to be here in Portland, which is lovely. So my editor was nearby and I’ve known Aaron for a long time and so a lot of my clients are asking, and I’m just like how am I going to talk about nonverbals in a book? But I just finally got serious about it. I was just like, you know what, I’m gonna do this.
I hired a book writing coach, not someone who wrote it. I wrote every word. But someone who kind of kept me on a schedule, right? And was checking with me and redraft and give me ideas for what I might do next. And that was really helpful. And so it took me about 13 months to write the book. I think I did pretty well.
Davina: Yeah. And people should know this is that, this is a trial guide. So this is like a textbook. This is I mean, you know, it’s more entertaining and not as dry. But it is not a, not some, you know, 5.99 thing you get from Amazon, right? This is an actual book that is a reference guide and a training tool and a teaching tool for litigators and people who want to be really effective litigators, right?
Sari: I had a lot of people, friends who are like, hey, I want to support you and buy the book. I’m like you really don’t. It’s $135. So I appreciate that but let’s let the, I don’t know why lawyer books are so expensive. But there it is. Yeah, so it is. It’s very comprehensive. It talks a lot about group dynamics and voir dire and opening and closing. And that’s the last half of the book. The first half of the book is all about the hostage myth, both of you and jurors, how to increase permission with jurors, what it is we’re attempting to do.
So it’s gotten great responses. Five star reviewed on Trial Guides. People have just come out of the woodwork to say oh my god, one of the things they have said and this is not dry, it’s funny. So hopefully my personality came out in there. And it’s a book I would hopefully want to read myself, but yeah, it was, that was a huge accomplishment. I was just really pleased with how it came out.
Davina: On behalf of attorneys everywhere I say thank you for creating an entertaining sort of book for, as opposed to all of the horrors that we’ve had to endure through the years of law school and beyond with reading, you know, so many cases that I, that kind of thing. So,
Sari: You’re welcome. I’ve actually had many non-lawyers say, you know, I read it and this is like, applicable to like, just communicating with anyone. So I was happy to hear that.
Davina: Great, great. So what, you also have a podcast by the same name, and what kinds of you know, kind of what is the, what kinds of things do you talk about on your podcast? Do you interview other people or
Sari: I take, sometimes I’m it’s mostly me. I take concepts from the book and talk about them. It’s really a mix between the mindset work so there’s some on you know, how to manage your mind and the fear and that and all that. And then there’s some on like the last one was how to ring the bell at trial. What does that mean? Well, it’s repeating a certain phrase throughout your opening statement to really bring home your concept to the jury.
So it’s really a mix of trial tips, trial skills, and then also mindset coaching work also reviewed at five stars. So we’re happy with how the podcast is performing. That’s really, it’s really fun to be doing the podcast. It’s a weekly podcast that comes out on Friday. We also have a Facebook group From Hostage to Hero where attorneys are uploading videos to get feedback, posting questions about the book and the podcast. That’s a really active Facebook group. And you can find that on Facebook by just searching for From Hostage To Hero. That’s open to all civil plaintiffs and criminal defense attorneys.
Davina: Oh, I like that. I like that. So lots of support there. And I was listening to one of your podcasts. I’ve listened to your podcast, you know, for a while now and the one you were, like a lot of us now, we’re recording this after a few weeks of quarantine from, because of the pandemic. One of the things that you talked about on a recent podcast, which you put out a couple, specifically to kind of support people through this time, what you talked a lot about the pause. And I would love to have you share a little bit about that here because I think a lot of people will find that useful and valuable to hear what you were saying about the pause.
Sari: Yeah, so, in that episode, I won’t go into the whole thing, of course, you can listen to it. It’s called, I think Leaning Into the Pause. But the whole concept has been taught us something we don’t like. As a musician, I was constantly telling my students to stop blowing through the rest. As a presentation coach, I’m constantly telling my people to, you know, hold some space from silence.
And now as everything is on pause in the world, people are freaking out. And so the question on that podcast is why. And I think it’s because we’re not, there’s things that we are avoiding in our lives. And when we pause, you know, dizziness is just a way for us not to look at stuff. And so this is a time where we have to look at stuff.
And that’s not real comfortable. And yet, you know, I always say trial work is personal work. If we take the time right now to really delve into what we’ve been shoving aside and really look at it and see, I mean, I think this is really true for women. It’s like, how do we wake up, you know, 10 years out of law school, 20 years out of law school, and we’re living life we don’t even recognize, right? We’re not healthy, we’re not making the money we wanted.
And it’s because we don’t take the time that this is now forced upon us as an example, to really plug in and as my coach says, attune to ourselves and really ask ourselves, what is it that I want for day to day life to look like? What is it that this time is trying to teach me? I think this time is very important for us to all tune in and do a check and say is this where I want to be? I’m having so many clients show up saying Sari, I don’t know what’s going on but I want to make changes.
And it’s because they’re actually slowing down enough to recognize that where our normal business, especially trial lawyers doesn’t allow you to do that. So I think this time is very, very important if we use it wisely, which is to really check in and be with the stuff that we normally don’t want to be with, that we shut down.
Davina: And I think that pausing is much more effective than panicking, which is what we’re seeing going on a lot right now. I mean, this, we’ve just really gotten into first part of this quarantine and already we’re seeing people, you know, just very panicked about the unknown. Like we don’t even know we’re just letting our mind go to that negative space and the worst possible outcomes and all that, as opposed to, you know, there are other options here.
And there was something that I’m always talking with, you know, I’ve been talking with my people about and you mentioned that in your podcast and I really liked it, which was that attorneys are probably more prepared than most individuals for chaos, for dealing with chaos because we kind of miss our world. You know, things are always changing.
Sari: It’s what you gotta do.
Davina: Right. This is, we’re always changing. In the courtroom and in cases and with clients, and you never know what kind of craziness a client’s gonna come up with. And what a judge is going to reschedule and what opposing counsel is gonna do some crazy thing. I mean that and then juggling raising young children on top of that. So, you know, if anybody’s equipped for this kind of mess, it’s attorneys. And it’s a great opportunity for attorneys to, especially women attorneys and women law firm owners to step into leadership. Don’t you think?
Sari: Absolutely, I think we need to resist the urge to get busy. Because I think that’s what I’ve seen a lot, too, especially my female clients. They’re showing up, they’re going, Okay, we’re at least locked down for six to eight weeks. Who knows now what it is, but, you know, at the time, and they’re like, I gotta get like, I gotta get productive. Like, I’ve been given this gift of time and like, what am I gonna do with it? And I’m like, What if we were just going to be with it? What if we were just in that space for a while?
What if you waited for what wants to emerge? I’ve been asking that question a lot of my clients this week, what wants to emerge in your life? What if we just sit with that for a minute instead of spinning into a different kind of doing, and I’m gonna need, I’m gonna like, and I think people feel a lot of pressure to do that, especially when I’ve been given this time. I’ve gotta be wise with it. It’s like, you know, some people are just hanging on with all the homeschooling and the, you know, fear over what’s going to happen.
And just be compassionate. Just be for a minute. Just see and sit and see what wants to emerge. And trust that what wants to emerge is what’s the next right thing. You know, Frozen 2 is a big thing in our house. There’s a song in Frozen 2, just do the right, next right thing. And I think right now, that’s the perfect place to be in for all of us, is, you know, they go what do I, what do I do? And I said, you, when you know what the next right thing is, then you’ll do it. Wait until you know.
Davina: Inspired action. Inspired action. We’re waiting for the inspire part, inspiration part, you know? I definitely think, it would be, and that’s a much more exciting thing to think about. I’m going to let inspiration and ideas come to me, right? I’m going to receive, I’m going to be open to receiving, as opposed to, I’m going to go out and chase it down and, you know, kill it, right? I’m gonna run around in a panic, right? And just do all the things and none of it well, because I, you know, because I’m not actually being strategic. Yeah.
Sari: Yeah. And I think why do people struggle with meditation so much? Like, I can’t do it, Sari. It’s like, all my thoughts would come. You don’t why all your thoughts come up? Because you’re finally quiet. That’s why. That’s why all your thoughts come up. So that’s what this time is giving you right now. There’s something that wants to emerge or there’s some things that your life wants to tell you.
Are you willing to be quiet for a little bit to see what it has to tell you? You know, I was with a client yesterday, and she was like, 2020 was supposed to be my year. It’s supposed to be my year for growth. And I had this plan, and I had this plan. And I’m like, you know what? That was just delivered. You want to grow? Here’s your opportunity. It’s not
Davina: You’ll get growth right here in spades.
Sari: That’s right. This is, here it is. Growth has been delivered what are you gonna do with it? So I think that’s it. It’s the shifting of what we thought life was gonna be like, and really pausing and looking at what we want life to look like. And we have some time to think about it now. So let’s think about it. Let’s dive in. Let’s not be afraid.
Davina: Right. Right. Well, on that note, we’ve I could like, I could talk to you and talk to you, talk to you. So but we’re gonna wrap it up so we can get back to our other obligations. But I want to, I want you to tell everybody where we can find your book and where we can find out more about you and the work you do.
Sari: So the book is called From Hostage to Hero and you can go to fromhostagetohero.com. And that’s where you’ll see a link to the podcast, that’s where you’ll see a link to buy the book, that’s where you’ll see a link to join the Facebook group. So it’s kind of all there in one place. If you want to go straight to Trial Guides, you can. Trialguides.com.
If you want to learn more about me, how to work with me, all those kinds of nice things, you can go to saridlm.com. DLM for like de la Motte. Sari DLM SARIDLM.com and that will give you access to how to work with me. You can listen to the podcast there as well. But, you know, anywhere the podcasts are available, iTunes, Spotify, you should be able to find it either there or from our website or the From Hostage to Hero website.
Davina: Wonderful, wonderful. Thanks so much. I’m sure that you’re going to have a lot of women law firm owners who are going to be checking out the book and searching you and checking you out and looking to see what you’re up to. Because I think there’s not, you know, not only, the work you’re doing not only helps people in trial, but I suspect it just elevates your confidence all the way around.
Sari: I should hope so. Because I say to people all the time, trial is just the place where we’re playing with these skills. That’s just the place where I help people play with these skills. It’s the skills that are more important. It’s who you are that’s more important. People will say, I’ve got a trial coming up, should I come work with you. I say come anyway, because there’s gonna be more trials, are they’re not? We’re learning the skills. We’re learning the mindset.
So that’s, yeah, you’re absolutely right. If you buy the book, and even if you’re not a litigator, it’s going to help you with communication. It’s gonna help you let go of your limiting beliefs. It’s going to help you communicate with confidence. Trial’s, just the arena that I specialize in, but all of these things apply across the board.
Davina: Right, right. I love that. Well, thank you very much for being here. I really, if you can’t tell, I’ve really enjoyed the conversation. And I’m so happy that I finally got you on my podcast.
Sari: Yeah, thanks for having me. It was really fun.