Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tips on the Practice of Law From Ferris Bueller

I offer this article of mine from the April 27, 2010 Pennsylvania Law Weekly for your reading enjoyment:

Enlightening thoughts for lawyers – from a teen epic hero


Daniel E. Cummins, Esquire

The recent telecast of the Academy Awards Ceremony, with its tribute to the late movie director John Hughes, brought back to mind many of the teen epic movies of the 1980s along with their famous characters. Perhaps none of these characters were as unforgettable as Ferris Bueller, played perfectly by Matthew Broderick, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, released in 1986.

For those who are not of the 80s teen generation or who are otherwise unfamiliar, this film followed a day in the life of high school senior Ferris Bueller, who decided to skip school and, instead, spend a beautiful spring day in downtown Chicago. Accompanied by his girlfriend and his best friend Cameron Frye, Ferris creatively avoids his school’s Dean of Students, his resentful sister, and his parents throughout the day. During the film, Ferris Bueller occasionally turns to the camera and explains to the audience his techniques and thoughts.

Some of those humorously enlightening thoughts of Ferris Bueller, as set forth below, could serve to assist in easing a few of the burdens of the law profession.

How could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?

In the opening scenes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris awakes to clear blue skies with wispy clouds and bright sunshine—it’s a beautiful 70 degree spring day in Chicago. Ferris asks the above question and gets to work on his plan to get out of having to go to school.

How often have you heard another lawyer exclaim what a beautiful day it is outside and lament that he or she is “stuck in here” doing work?

While it may not always be feasible to “pull a Ferris” and take advantage of all of a beautiful sunshiny day, perhaps lunch could be had at a nice outside spot followed by a leisurely stroll around the awaking greenery of spring to get some fresh air and clear your head for an hour or so.

On those rare occasions when an sudden, splendid day coincides with a lull in the calendar, see if you can take the day as a way to rejuvenate on a “mental health” day, spend time with family, or (keeping the boss happy) take a client out to the golf course.

They bought it. Incredible. One of the worst performances of my career, and they never doubted it for a second.

This is Ferris’ comment after he succeeds in persuading his parents that he is too ill that morning to be sent off to school. The lesson of course is not that fakery is good—rather, this comment shows that we can sometimes surprise ourselves with how persuasive we can be at times.

In trial, the key to being persuasive is to believe in one’s own objective in the trial and the theory of the case being presented to reach that objective. If the attorney does not entirely believe in the case presented the jury’s radar will certainly pick up on that lack of confidence and may reject it themselves.

An excellent tool to assist the attorney in persuasively presenting a theory of the case is the use of demonstrative evidence and, in this day and age, the use of PowerPoint presentations. A lawyer presenting his case at trial via repeated use of computer powered graphics versus a “talking head” attorney without exhibits is sure to have the upper hand in terms of persuasiveness with a jury.

As the fictional attorney Billy Flynn explains his trial strategy in the song “Razzle Dazzle” in the musical Chicago: “Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle…/Give ‘em an act with lots of flash in it / Then the reaction will be passionate….”

So razzle dazzle them at trial and your client may benefit even if he or she does not have the better evidence to present.

Do you realize that if we played by the rules right now we'd be in gym?

As he sets off and goes through with a day of playing hooky with his girlfriend and his best friend Cameron, Ferris becomes increasingly frustrated with how nervous and uptight his friend Cameron is about getting caught and utters this comment.

Attorneys are born to follow rules and the thought of not following the rules is repugnant. However, there may be times when taking calculated risks and throwing caution to wind may be in the best interest of a client while still playing within the rules and the law applicable to the case presented.

Taking the time to try to think outside of the box or do the unexpected could be the difference. For Ferris, this thinking led to the vast difference of him being at a Chicago Cubs day game catching a foul ball as opposed to being in gym class being forced to climb up a rope or something. In an attorney’s case, thinking outside of the box and taking risks on dispositive motions or at trial could be the substantial difference between winning a case or losing the case.

Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, "I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me." Good point there.

Believe in yourself and what you do and no one can doubt you or your motives. Enough said.

Cameron: Ferris, my father loves this car more than life itself.
Ferris: A man with priorities so far out of whack doesn’t deserve such a fine automobile.

This conversation takes place in the garage in Cameron’s parent’s house as the two teenagers look at Cameron’s father’s mint condition shiny red antique 1961 Ferrari GT California. With this comment young Ferris is wise beyond his years.

Sometimes the 24-7 relentlessness of the practice of law makes it is easy to lose sight of what’s important both in your practice and outside of your practice. Stopping on occasion to re-evaluate one’s status in life and re-prioritizing never hurts.

Maybe it will even help your outlook on life to take a moment to actually write down what is important to YOU in the grand scheme of your life and in terms of your goals both in and out of work. Then, don’t just push that paper aside, but make it a priority to put those thoughts into action--today, not tomorrow.

Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Ferris looks right into the camera and hits you with this comment. So simply put and so true.

The law is really only one piece of our short lives. A balance between work and life outside of work should not only be sought but encouraged. Devoting all of one’s energies to the practice of law to the detriment of one’s family, social, or recreational life could lead to a burn out, not to mention great regret.

There’s no slowing down life and it seems the older we get the quicker it goes. So take moments to stop. Just stop. Look around. See what you see in your life and seize and enjoy the moments of your life.

Channeling a good portion of one’s time and energies instead to those important aspects of life outside of work may ultimately have the benefit of making one a happier person and therefore a more productive and less stressed lawyer.


I end this article as Ferris Bueller ended his movie as the last credits rolled up the screen: "You're still here? It's over! Go home! Go!"

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