The better the trial lawyer, the better her sense of what experiences have been important to other people — that is, to jurors. But we all have blind spots. One of mine, it turns out, was Michael Jackson.
I know I risk losing subscribers when I say this, but I missed him entirely, or more accurately missed his music and his impact entirely. He was almost exactly a year younger than I am, and we're both from northwest Indiana, so early on, I liked him a lot. In junior high school, we all sang along with "Rockin' Robin." But when his solo career started with songs like "Ben," I must have tuned out. When "Thriller" came out in 1982, I was a young lawyer trying to stay calm with music I'd liked in college, and I just missed it all. Before Jackson died, I couldn't have hummed a single line from "Billie Jean" or "Beat It." I knew his biography included moonwalking and plastic surgeries and maybe oxygen tanks and allegedly pedophilia; if you'd asked me to describe him in two words, I probably would have picked sad and weird.
"An outsize, mesmerizing talent"
So I'm shaking my head as I watch footage of streets full of mourners, and listen to tributes from people of all ages and from all corners of the arts. (Here's a collection of samples from Rolling Stone.) Did Fred Astaire really say "That's the greatest dancer of the century"? (I'm not linking because I can't find a solid source, but the quote is all over the web right now.) Was Jackson really "in possession of an outsize, mesmerizing talent," as the New York Times summed it up? Was he really a symbol of peace and hope to an entire "We Are The World" generation, as young fans on TV lined up to say into the microphone?
Apparently he was. It wasn't that I'm too old (he had plenty of older fans) or that I disdain pop culture (I know far too many "Friends" episodes by heart). It was just that his particular combination of personality and musical style didn't speak to me, so I ignored him. I truly had no idea.
What are you missing?
Here's the larger point for trial lawyers in this little memoir: you're probably missing something too. And it might not be small; it might be, like Michael Jackson, something that a lot of jurors would list among their greatest inspirations and influences. It's worth pausing at moments like this to consider what you're missing, and whether you could open a little further to the experience of people who are not you.