Anne Miller — Words Matter Make What You Say Pay!
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Words Matter – Make What You Say Pay!


Metaphor Minute: Million Dollar Metaphor

The METAPHOR MINUTE Newsletter by Anne Miller

August 7, 2013

Million Dollar Metaphor

When well-known and widely respected trial lawyer Mitch Jackson, winner of the 2013 CLAY (California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year) award for Litigation wrote to me for help in developing a metaphor for his closing argument in a recent wrongful death case, needless to say, I was very intrigued. Happily, I provided that metaphor and the results were just what Mitch needed to help win his $1 million case.

As Mitch wrote afterwards, “As soon as the words left my lips, I knew from their facial expressions that my jury understood the complicated issues and ‘got it.’”

The Facts
In a nutshell, the case concerned a young man, who had been a local high school athlete and scholar, who was being transported in the back of a non-emergency ambulance between hospitals. He was disoriented, but calm, and cooperative by all accounts. In any case, it was required by the EMTs and the ambulance company to transport him using soft restraints. His restraints were not properly applied and he escaped and was hit and killed by a car. Mitch represented the boy’s mother and father.

During trial it was learned that for a 3 year time period before this young man’s death, the defendant ambulance company had 20 other people escape from their soft restraints. Despite this fact, they did nothing about changing the types of knots they used or procedures they taught their EMTS. It would have required too much effort, training and money. Also, after this young man’s death (and frankly, to Mitch’s surprise), the ambulance company testified that they had 10 more patients escape their soft restraints.

Mitch’s expert testified that in 20 years of transporting these types of patients, he never had a single one become released. The defendant’s expert testified to a similar track record.

The defendants argued that because they had transported more than 4,000 patients during this same time period, despite these 30 or so releases, statistically their success rate was above 99%. The trial judge correctly found that this kind of argument was totally irrelevant. In his words, “the gravity of one person escaping their ties and sustaining serious injury would be sufficient to warrant this case going to the jury…”

The Challenge
Mitch wanted a metaphor to use in his closing argument that would help him put this 30 release number and the related risk of harm and death to a patient into perspective. “Was there a metaphor that would jump out at you for the jury?” Mitch was initially thinking something like, “Putting your head in the sand... disregarding the facts... profits over people...?”

(What metaphors come to your mind?)

The Million Dollar Winner
Mitch and I discussed these and others and were not one hundred percent happy with any of them. And then as I thought about the situation and the point we wanted to make, the winning metaphor came to me. Every time the ambulance company used their soft restraints, they were really gambling. They were playing a kind of Russian Roulette, hoping that when they pulled the trigger (put on the restraints) they wouldn’t catch a bullet (lose the patient). Mitch used my metaphor this way:

“The defendant ambulance company played ‘private ambulance Russian roulette.’ They knew that there would be a time when the restraints would not work and they crossed their fingers every time they used them –hoping this wouldn’t be the bullet that would kill.”

Beyond the Court Room
As a top litigator, Mitch needs to drive home his legal points for a jury, particularly when the arguments are complex. He knows that the most effective way to instantly and dramatically communicate those points is with metaphors. You needn’t be a litigator, but, like Mitch, if your success depends on explanation and persuasion, you, too, will benefit from mastering the art of metaphor.

Make What You Say Pay — With Metaphors.
Anne Miller

P.S. To learn more about the recent verdict, visit…

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 "The Metaphor Minute" is a brief monthly note with examples from business, media, or politics that illustrate the power of metaphors and analogies to make a point, solve a problem, and get results. Use these stories to stimulate high pay-off metaphoric thinking in your business. © 2013. Anne Miller. -- PERMISSION TO REPRINT -- Feel free to reprint in company newsletters or articles. Just include ©2013, Anne Miller, author, "Metaphorically Selling,"
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