'Winning Every Time': Using courtroom lessons in everyday life

Issue June 2004 By Lisa C. Johnson

Move over Dr. Phil. There's a new doctor in the house. A juris doctor.
"Winning Every Time," the new book written by Lis Wiehl, provides non-lawyers with the skills necessary to tap into their "inner advocate."

Wiehl gives "eight steps" to obtain the skills of a lawyer, specifically litigation pointers necessary to win a trial. These include "Know What You Want: The Theory of the Case"; "Choose and Cultivate Your Audience: Voir Dire"; "Marshall Your Evidence; Discovery;" "Advocate with Confidence: Making the Case;" "Counter the Claims: Cross-Examination"; "Stay True to Your Case: Avoid the Seven Deadly Spins"; "Advocate with Heart: Let Me Tell You a Story"; and "Sum it Up: The Closing Argument."

"Winning Every Time" is broken into two parts, with the first part discussing the eight steps. The second part of the book shows how to use the eight steps in different areas of peoples' lives, at work, in business and consumer negotiations, and with family members.

Wiehl's professional accomplishments are extensive. She shares many of her own personal experiences, and shows how she overcame hardships and succeeded.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Wiehl is a tenured professor of law at the University of Washington's School of Law, a legal commentator for NPR's All Things Considered and a legal analyst for the Fox News Network, making regular appearances on The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity and Colmes, and Fox & Friends. During the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, Wiehl was hired by the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee to help conduct the investigation and advise the Democrats.

The book is easygoing and seems to be written from a place of honesty and caring. The idea for the book arose after a paralegal in her office, Jennifer, came to her in tears. Jennifer had received her first negative review in 10 years.

Wiehl used her legal training to help Jennifer form her case, gather her evidence, make her argument and ultimately win her trial by having her supervisor amend the review. Wiehl realized the skills attorneys learn in law school could be applied to the problems faced by people everyday.

The first step discussed by Wiehl is to know what you want or to decide what is the theory of your case. Here she discusses how to avoid red herrings.

"In the 1800s British fugitives would rub a herring across their trail, thereby diverting the bloodhounds that were in hot pursuit. Much like smelly fish, distracting, faulty, or shortsighted arguments subvert your true objective. Red herrings throw you off the trail of your goal. Finish the sentence, This case is not about … If you phrase the proposition like this, you may be surprised at your answers. You'll realize that certain theories of the case - for example, those that revolve around sheer emotion or righteousness, such as 'how angry I am' or 'why I'm right' - are often counterproductive. Your case is not about 'an idiotic, overpriced plumber'; it's about 'a sump pump that still needs to be repaired.' It's not about 'the way my boss undervalues my work'; it's about 'getting the raise I deserve.' Throughout the case you'll be distracted by red herrings, either those thrown in your way by others or those reeled in by your own mind. You'll need to remind yourself to return to the true theme of your case. Don't let the red herrings throw you off the trail. Follow the scent that contains the true essence of your goal. It's essential to your success."

Although Wiehl says legal skills can help resolve everyday situations, she certainly acknowledges there are limits, especially when it comes to questioning loved ones.

"As for dreaming of becoming a skilled cross-examiner of everyone from your spouse to your boss, forget about it. The dream is nice; the reality is a nightmare. People married to lawyers will tell you they hate it when their spouse uses cross-examination in a family argument."

About the book …

Title: Winning Every Time

Author: Lis Wiehl

Description: A self-help book that shows how to use the skills of a lawyer in everyday situations.

Publisher: Ballantine Books: A Division of Random House, Inc.

Publication Date: April 27, 2004

Wiehl gives an example of a conversation to make her point.

"Spouse: Honey, I really think we need to get a new car. Ours is really starting to fall apart.

"Lawyer: But just last week, you said you enjoyed driving it, isn't that true?

"Spouse: Well, honey, what I meant was -

"Lawyer: Answer the question: Yes or no.

"Spouse: Look there's more to it than -

"Lawyer: It's a simple question. I think you can give me a simple answer.

"Spouse: Yes, I can: I want a divorce."

At the end of each chapter, Wiehl provides a checklist that summarizes the most important points of each step. In the second part of the book, the catch phrase "the eight steps" is rather overused and becomes a bit annoying. However, that is probably due to the current style of self-help books rather than Wiehl's writing.

"Winning Every Time" contains good practical advice regardless of the style in which it is given.

Wiehl gives a cute example of how the eight steps can protect your children from false inferences if wrongly accused. In this example, Wiehl was the one to accuse the wrong party.

"I had invited six little girls over for a two-hour party celebrating my daughter's fifth birthday. I love throwing parties for my kids, although I must admit I get more stressed out about putting on one of these parties than I do going on national television and debating Bill O'Reilly. My worries are typical mom worries. Will the girls get along? Will any of them feel left out? … The one thing I didn't worry about was food. No one would go hungry. I had made plates of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and had bought a beautiful chocolate cake with rich pink frosting and plastic figures of ballet dancers. So about an hour before the party was to begin, I went to my home office, where I had hidden the cake. When I opened the door to my office, I almost keeled over. … The frosting had been completely decimated by someone's fingers. I immediately suspected my son (based on weak circumstantial evidence). After all he had torn out of the house a few hours earlier, saying he was going to play baseball with his friends (after promising me he would stick around for his sister's party). … He must have done the dastardly deed. … I mercilessly presented my theory of the case and asked him what he had to say for himself. I could tell instantly, just by looking in his eyes, that he had no idea what I was talking about.

"I found Dani in her room, being unusually quiet. 'Danielle?' I said, walking into her room. 'Did you touch your cake?'

"'No,' she said.

"'Not even for a second?'


"'Good. I'm a little worried you might not like the icing.'

"'No. I like it,' she said, getting caught in a lobster trap. When I calmed down, I asked her why she would ruin her birthday cake. The simple answer: 'I knew you would fix it.'

"Aaargh. To be a parent."

In Wiehl's own life, she used her method to change her career. After she graduated from law school, she did the responsible thing by taking a corporate law job in Seattle. However, she really wanted to combine her love for journalism with law. This combination of journalism and law became her theme. Her theory of the case was that she wanted to write for The New York Times. Wiehl persevered. She did eventually write for the Times and continues to transform her career.

"Winning Every Time" shows the rest of us how to achieve our goals using her eight steps. Based on the success Wiehl has achieved in her own life, taking some advice from her certainly could not hurt.