“Taarikh pe taarikh, taarikh pe taarikh…” (Translated: “date after date, date after date…”)
No, that’s not a frustrated Majnu complaining to his beloved why he is not making progress in the relationship and just meandering around from one date to the next.
It’s Sunny Deol screaming at the top of his voice in front of the helpless judge, and proving how his “dhai kilo ka haat” attitude in the courtroom can ultimately defeat the domineering veteran opponent lawyer with an amazing baritone.
Thinking that this is only a movie? What if I tell you that it happens in real life too.
One of the Calcutta High Court senior advocates was famous for his theatricality during his submissions. While he would stammer every other word, the way he danced during his submission was worth watching. Even the lady judge would keep smiling slightly while the rest of us, lawyers, would enjoy the spectacle, the drama going on.
He is not the only one though. Many top lawyers across the country often engage in flamboyance and dramatization, and rightly so.
Because it matters.
In this article, I am going to discuss this a bit.
Do note that not every one of you can bring on the drama in the courtroom. It depends on how much the court trusts and respects you. But learning the art of dramatization can certainly help you in your independent practice sooner or later.
And not only in the courtroom, it helps a lawyer in many walks of his life and practice.
What is dramatization?
The literal meaning of dramatization is to act out of something. So, when you turn the Tale of Two Cities into a play, it means we are dramatizing it. Every piece of drama scripted and acted out in theatres is a byproduct of dramatization.
However, on a broader sense, dramatization can also mean expressing your thoughts and ideas in a more vivid, imaginative way for a better understanding and perception of the audience.
For example, when you wave your hands and use a wide range of facial expressions to tell a story to a toddler, you are actually dramatizing it.
When you modulate your tone while presenting a pitch to your prospective client, you are dramatizing it.
When you are taking that awkward pause in between your submission and waiting for the reaction of the judge, you are indeed dramatizing it.
Every form of action and speech that aims to amplify the conveyance of the core message can be considered a part of dramatization.
Showmanship that amplifies the effect of what you want to say or do can help you gain prominence in any career that you go into, more so in the legal profession.
As is written in the bestseller “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, “This is the day of dramatization. Merely stating a truth isn’t enough. The truth has to be vivid, interesting and dramatic. You have to use showmanship. The movies do it. The television does it. And you will have to do it if you want attention.”
If you are already a practising lawyer, you know just how important that little word “attention” can be in winning your client’s case.
How do lawyers dramatize themselves and their work?
While there are several ways you can dramatize your court presence, I will list down the prerequisites that factor into and determine how much dramatization you are able to bring into your legal career and which are the ones you just cannot afford to do without.
Flashy Assets (attire, car, chamber, assistants, etc.)
Think about it. You have two lawyers in front of you. One is wearing a chappal and carries a worn and torn handbag and he claims to earn lakhs in fees per month. Would you believe it? Maybe.
Now, you have another lawyer, in an Armani suit, who steps down from a Merc, with a beautiful woman by his side and walks into The Leela Palace for an evening party. He claims to work as a counsel for a legal aid clinic. Would you believe it? I don’t know. It’s hard to digest.
Lawyers have realised that how they present themselves and dramatize their presence have an impact on their clientele, fees and standing.
Frankly, in law, showing off occasionally precedes success and power. Many lawyers show off power, connections and wealth (in the form of your attire, your car, your chamber, your assistants and lavish parties attended by the elite, etc).
No wonder that a lot of lawyers are prone to showing off.
We are not endorsing showing off here, but we hope to drive home a point that this is a part of the legal profession, we like it or not.
Go to any high court and you will see that the most successful lawyers carry themselves in style. Gowns flowing around, chest puffed, chin up and a smug smirk on their face… their body language speaks of success even if they don’t.
What’s funny is you can buy all the assets in the world but you cannot buy confidence. Nobody in the world can teach you how to develop your own inside-the-courtroom and outside-the-courtroom flair. Talk the talk? Certainly, you can learn to. But walk the walk? That takes practice as well.
Whether it is the juniors, the interns, the friends or the acquaintances, top lawyers would occasionally walk around in the court premises with an army of followers around them. Everyone is talking, smiling and socializing, with the spotlight on the Big B at all times. B stands for Boss, here. Just clarifying so that you don’t get confused. 🙂
Dramatization, when covered with a generous layer of humility, can be so more powerful than a show of fake know-it-all arrogance. I will also add in that it is a very rare quality in the legal profession where ego reigns supreme.
However, if you really want to be the centre of attention and gradually develop your own style, do remember that your empire is made of your subjects! Ignore them at your own risk.
As Thomas Merton said, “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”
Sometimes, being dramatic is not the issue. But being “artificially” dramatic is. Be real and bring forth the drama, dear lawyer.
Is dramatization necessary?
The idealistic me wants to shout out, “No, it is not at all necessary. BE YOURSELF!!!”
Unfortunately, the legal profession does not run on merit alone. I wish it was but sadly, it does not. The showmanship goes a long way if you want to make it big in the legal field, especially as an independent legal practitioner.
When persuasion is the name of the game, you have to be dramatic and exciting.
Having said that, it must always be remembered though what role dramatization and flamboyance plays in your legal career. It is not to satisfy your ego. It is not to fake a false persona. It is not to snub your peers down. Dramatization is to bring home your idea, your point of view. That’s it.
Dramatization … to influence the big chair’s decision.
Dramatization … to help your client win.
Dramatization … to become a more competent lawyer.
If you think dramatization is about manipulating the audience, it’s not. If you think dramatization is about covering up your lack of understanding of the issue, it’s not. If you think dramatization is about being Harvey Specter in Suits, it’s not.
To what extent is dramatization allowed?
I remember a scene from the movie Meri Jung where Anil Kapoor, a lawyer, has got no option left but gulp down a full bottle of poison in court to prove that it is, in fact, not poison at all. Seriously?!
If you tried to pull off the same stunt in any of the Indian courts, you will be charged with contempt of the court.
So to start with, beware of the Indian cinema. The stunts are pulled off by trained professionals for the entertainment of the Indian cinema audience. Do not try this inside the courtroom before the judge.
Jokes apart, please do not go against the court procedure, especially if you are a budding lawyer and is out to gain experience. The court most certainly does not take a lenient stand on over-smart behaviour especially from juniors. For senior lawyers though, this might not be that much of an issue if you could maintain the dignity of the court and conform to the best practices.
While dramatization is mostly needed inside the court, it can be used outside the court as well.
In different ways, of course.
A lawyer does not only plead cases in the court. He has to meet clients, prepare legal drafts and even engage in business development. Dramatization can come handy everywhere.
Where can you use dramatization?
Inside the courtroom
This is a no-brainer!
Of course, you have to put on a bit of bigger-than-life panache the moment you step inside the courtroom.
Starting from the moment you open the courtroom door to waiting for the matter to be called to standing up and delivering your mind-boggling spiel for whatever amount of time allotted to you, you must know that you are like an actor entering the stage and you must play the role immaculately as long as you are on there.
However, have you ever heard the saying “actors are always acting”? Even as lawyers, you must put up the veil of dramatization at all times.
Even outside the courtroom because that’s where the background action happens.
Outside the courtroom
I will probably not be able to list all the extra activities that you usually do as a lawyer. I will list the most common few.
Meeting with clients and holding conferences with other lawyers are a staple part of a lawyer’s life. Again, these three words “vivid, dramatic and interesting” work really well when you are explaining the gravity of a situation to a client or perhaps, convincing a fellow lawyer to take a particular legal stance instead of the one prefers.
If you are negotiating with the opposite party on behalf of your client, being dry and boring does not work. Higher energy results in higher impact. Simple physics, right? If you go in strong, you will come out strong. It’s you who brings on the drama and not your opponent, ever.
You are writing a legal argumentative piece. As is usual with you, you are taking a stand. Well, facts do work at times but emotions almost always work better. Even when the world’s leading environmentalists could not sway the governments and garner popular support, Greta Thunberg’s simple statement “How dare you?” sent a wave across the world. She is only 17 years old!
Want to create your own website? Want to promote your legal services? You have to add in a unique twist to the “same old, same old”, cut out the blah blah and sweep your audience off their feet. Of course, you can’t put up a banner saying “Better call Saul” but even a simple tweet should be rather spicy hot!
I hope you got the idea.
Examples of lawyers using dramatization
Who could beat the great Ram Jethmalani when it comes to courtroom craft? He would pompously put one of his legs up on a side chair while arguing. He would pay Rs 13 lakhs for a half-page ad on Indian Express questioning the Indian government on the black money issue. This was the man for all seasons, and perhaps, every one of you reading this article could learn a few tricks from him.
An interesting tidbit: He passed law when he was seventeen years old. (What’s up with this number 17?)
But why only Ram Jethmalani? Even others like Ujjwal Nikam know a thing or two about courtroom drama. Remember how he said to the media that Ajmal Kasab demanded mutton biriyani while in jail. This was after the media reported “tears in Kasab’s eyes” and that he got emotional in memory of his sister.
Nikam confessed that this wasn’t true later on but what a clever way to get public opinion against Kasab, right! That dramatization led to massive media mobilization.
Abbas Kazmi, the lawyer who represented Kasab during the trial, said Nikam had “no right to instigate the common man… it was unethical, immoral and was meant to misguide the court”.
Then in the Shakti Mills rape trial, Nikam concocted a drama by asking the rape survivor to specifically ask the permission of the court to hit the perpetrators with chappal while the trial was in session!
Dramatization has a lot of power in it, and lawyers often resort to it. I hope you will recognise it, counter it when needed and come up with your own “drama” to achieve your goals. Put it to good use.
That’s it for today.
Let me know what you think of dramatization in the legal profession.
To your success.
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