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Legally Speaking by David J. Dempsey (Miranda Publishing, 315 pages, $49.95) www.legallyspeakingonline.com The Better Attorney by Ron Mombello (Grey Wolf Trail, 104 pages, $275) www.thebetterattorney.com Not everything a lawyer should know can be learned in law school. So say two recently self-published authors whose books aim to help lawyers become better communicators — Atlanta attorney David J. Dempsey, whose Legally Speaking promises “40 Powerful Presentation Principles Lawyers Need to Know,” and professional acting coach Ron Mombello, whose workbook The Better Attorney is the centerpiece of a correspondence course for lawyers on how to engage an audience and leave a lasting impact. Dempsey, a principal at Coleman & Dempsey in Atlanta, where he focuses on commercial leasing, commercial litigation, and bankruptcy, describes Legally Speaking as the distillation of “the best and worst lessons over 20 years of legal experience.” Says Dempsey: “I believe law school is a great place to learn how to think like a lawyer, write like a lawyer, and analyze like a lawyer. Unfortunately, it’s also a great place to learn how to speak like a lawyer, and this is precisely where the problem lies. I wanted to write the book I wish I had read when I first started practicing law.” And to hear Dempsey tell it, he had a rough start. His first jury trial was an unmitigated disaster, he says, despite his diligent and careful preparation for the proceeding. Believing he had mastered both the facts of the case and the law, Dempsey was all confidence when he began his opening statement. His naive assurance at first seemed justified as he completed the first half of his presentation to the jury without a hitch. But somewhere near the midpoint of his peroration, he lost his composure and, as he explains in the introduction to his book, “inexplicably, my right knee began to bob, gently at first, and then more violently. And then the left knee joined in, bobbing in time with my right knee. . . . But before I could decide just how to deal with this untoward set of events, my hips began to wildly convulse. I realized, as I was gyrating out of control, that I had become Attorney Elvis!” The unexplained desertion of Dempsey’s motor skills was followed, much to his consternation, by the sudden abandonment of his verbal abilities. “What I said over the next fifteen minutes is still a mystery,” Dempsey relates in Legally Speaking. “In the trial transcript, the court reporter simply noted, ‘Numerous unintelligible guttural sounds made by plaintiff’s counsel.’” What now makes an amusing anecdote for his readers was, of course, no laughing matter to Dempsey at the time. He carried the scars of his embarrassment for a number of years, avoiding litigation whenever possible. Yet unwilling to limit his law career, he became determined to make himself a better litigator. Dempsey worked hard to improve his communications skills and curtail his stage fright. In pursuit of these goals, he became involved with Toastmasters International and the National Speakers Association, eventually winning several competitions. To date, he has tried more than 50 cases and argued more than 100 motions at the state and federal level. Writing Legally Speaking was “a two-year labor of love,” Dempsey says in a telephone interview from his Atlanta office. But according to his account, his initial attempt at authorship didn’t start any more auspiciously than his initial day in court. “On my first day of writing, I sat down at the computer after a shower and a cup of tea. After 12 hours, I had one paragraph,” he says, adding, “I’m somewhat of a perfectionist.” Dempsey was undiscouraged by his meager first-day output and, as it turned out, with good reason. His next 12-hour stretch at the computer proved more fruitful, yielding two full chapters of the book’s eventual 40. With such chapter titles as “Build a Foundation,” “Analyze Your Audience Before You Speak,” “Organize for Impact,” and “Gesture With Conviction,” Legally Speaking dispenses a wide range of advice, from the general — “Every time you speak, you must clearly know the purpose of your presentation” — to the more specific — “Find out if your exhibits, your visual aids, and your files will be secure if left in the courtroom overnight.” As a boon to any speaker looking for a spritely quotation to enliven a presentation, Dempsey has strategically placed throughout his text numerous aper�us and bons mots to illustrate his arguments. For example, on pages that discuss the use of pauses in speech, the reader will find observations by George Santayana — “Trust the man who hesitates in his speech” — and Christopher Matthews — “Only talk when it improves the silence.” For the past six years, Dempsey has been collecting such quotes, and he has put them to good use in his book, about which he says, “I wanted something user-friendly — entertaining but educational.” Entertaining but educational can also describe Ron Mombello’s The Better Attorney, where, in the words of the author, “the world of the attorney will intersect with the world of the actor.” The exercises in the workbook are inspired by 10 movies — “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Inherit the Wind,” “Compulsion,” “Anatomy of a Murder,” “Judgment at Nuremberg,” “The Verdict,” “Witness for the Prosecution,” “A Few Good Men,” “The Caine Mutiny,” and “And Justice for All.” Readers — in essence, Mombello’s students in his correspondence course — are asked to watch videotapes of the films and do the assigned exercises. Mombello, who is an acting coach in upstate New York and who has previously worked at Desilu Studios and as a comedy writer for “Hollywood Squares,” has designed a number of exercises to be performed in front of a home video camera. The purchase price of The Better Attorney — $275 for a single copy (there are discounts for multiple copies) — allows the buyer to forward five examples of his or her best videotaped efforts to Mombello for a critique. For instance, in the chapter entitled “Building Conscience,” which is drawn from director Stanley Kramer’s “Judgment at Nuremberg,” Mombello asks this of his charges: “How would you, as a member of the Tribunal, judge these men who sat in Swastika-emblazoned robes and took part in the purposeful elimination of other human beings? Tape your position for clarity and impact.” Mombello believes that laymen judge lawyers by the standards they’ve developed from watching lawyers in the movies and on television dramas. “In some way,” writes Mombello, “a jury measures you by some preconceived notion, and, probably, in more cases than you’ll imagine, they’ll expect a Harry Hamlin from ‘LA Law,’ a Sam Waterston from ‘Law & Order,’ or a Dylan McDermott from ‘The Practice.’ “ While Mombello acknowledges that films and television often project a distorted image of lawyering, lessons can still be learned from these fictional icons. “Actors initiate a certain emphatic and dramatic pace, underscore certain words and phrases for impact, and, above all, are clear and concise in their presentation,” he says. In a telephone interview from his studio in Hobo Junction, N.Y., Mombello says his workbook first began to take shape about a decade ago. “This came about when a law firm asked me to teach their lawyers some tips about how to be as competent as legendary movie lawyers.” That first law firm encounter led to others and, eventually, to the correspondence course. “Attorneys have to work the book to get results,” he says. The handsomely manufactured spiral-bound workbook features myriad illustrations by Zachary Pullen, whose work has appeared in the pages of Legal Times and on the cover of The New York Times Book Review, among other publications. His four-color illustrations of the 10 films are so situated that they can be removed from the workbook for framing without harming the text. “I’m an absolute movie buff,” says Mombello. “We picked the 10 best to allow Zach to do great art.”

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