about public speaking

Dear Judge: Can you PLEASE muzzle that woman…and the press

In its third motion for protective order my least favorite tourism company asks the court yet again to stop the plaintiff from filing motions in the public court file.  Instead they want a special rule that requires us to give them five days notice before we can file a document so they can bring a motion asking the court to seal it or block us.  Kind of like an early warning anti-missile system.  We must tell them before we launch then they try to shoot us down before the paperwork can hit the courthouse file.

To justify this procedure, the defense attacks me yet again.  According to them I’m: a) self-serving; b)misrepresenting the facts; c)  garnering media attention; d) circumventing an existing court order.

I know I know.  You’re probably getting tired of reading about defense lawyers picking on me over and over again in the blog.  Trust me so am I.

But this time in its motion the company also attacks the media.  They charge: ” The media stories are contaminating the potential jury pool with false narratives.”

This is bothersome.  It is an echo of the “fake media” mantra that has been recently taken up around the country.

I believe we all need to stand up  for our right to engage in free speech and talk to the media if they are interested enough to ask.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

U.S. Constitution Amendment I.

Photo: Nala on her 9th birthday. 

Attachment:  Declaration of Karen Koehler in Support of Free Speech and the Press:  Koehler Decl. First Amendment

The story of the cutest worst hotel and a sample product liability complaint


Speak in Sun Valley at Idaho Trial Lawyer Convention in the morning.  Then on a panel in the afternoon. Leave at 3:30.   This means I cannot fly direct to LAX because that plane is gone.  Instead have to fly back to Seattle to then fly to LAX.  Arrive at 10:45 p.m.  Taxi to The Line Hotel.  Arrive at 11:30 p.m.

There’s a reason for the name of this hotel.  There is a line wrapped around it.  Slide through crowd of young people.  Hotel lobby is pitch dark and throbbing with people and music.  I don’t mean the club area to the side of the building.  Or the bar past the front desk.   I mean the actual lobby.  As soon as I walk inside am surround by clubbers.  Which if I hadn’t gotten off an airplane I might have been more pleased with.  But I am a grump.

Wait for front desk to check a woman’s purse so she can dance unencumbered. They give her a bag tag.  My turn finally.  Pretend smile.  Check in process occurs via sign language and reading each other’s lips.  It is too loud to speak.  Go up to 5th floor.  Open door.  Very hip.  Stripped to concrete walls.  Lots of outlets for electronics.  Low slung furniture. Bathroom vanity hits me mid thigh.  Really tall people would have to bend over double to turn on the faucet.   I am 20 years too old for this hotel.  Okay.  Maybe 30. Ceiling to floor window fronts Wilshire Blvd.  The main street.  Look outside.  Can see and hear everyone in the line and every car cruising the strip.   There is also a joint in the road that makes an extra special crunch sound every time a car passes over.

Consider going downstairs to change rooms.  But am too irritated.  The cacophony of sound bounces off the unforgiving gray cell walls.  I look up the white noise station on Pandora.   Waterfall.  No.  Rainforest.  No.  Settle on Springtime showers.   Turn it on via little portable speaker.  It can’t drown anything out.  Pull out  iPhone ear buds.  That doesn’t work.  Pull out running ear buds that fit a little tighter.  That doesn’t work.  Turn up the white noise.  Hello.  Loud white noise is not white noise – it is just noise.   This means that I stay up the entire night.  The party road does tone down around 4 or so in the morning.  But by then I’ve given up.   They are going to get a bad review on Trip Advisor.

Next morning walk from the hotel to Southwestern Law School.  7 blocks away.  It is already 75 degrees.  The school is in a magnificent art deco building.  Take the elevator up.  Am speaking to the National Police Accountability Project.  Spend a delightful three hour morning presenting on voir dire, opening and case themes.  Afterwards one of the attendees asks for a sample complaint.  I write complaints like opening statements.  Filled with details and structured the way that makes the most sense to me.  So here it is.   Complaint FINAL

Photo:  At Southwestern Law School getting ready to speak to NPAP

A convention speech and run around Gray’s Lake, Des Moines Iowa


Get up before alarm rings at 6.  This means it is really 4.  Flop back on bed.  Alarm rings at 6:15. 

Search around for hotel phone on night table.  Don’t find it.  Sigh.  It is on the other side of the bed.  Scramble across.  Hit “O”.  Ask for front desk.  It is front desk.  Can I get a late check out.  Yes. 

Thank heavens.  Don’t have to run now.  Would have been sleep-running.

Reset alarm for 8:30.  Which is 6:30. 

Repeat process.  Get up.  Dressed.  Down to the 2nd floor.  Check in.  Listen to presentation.  Am at the Iowa Association for Justice annual convention in Des Moines.  There’s a break.  Exchange greetings with a few familiar faces.  Meet with tech guy.  Give him thumb drive.   Get miked up.  Break ends.  Do presentation.  The ballroom is short but wide.  Feels as long as a football field.  Pace from one side to the other.   

There are too many slides.  Too many points to make.  Used a presentation that generally takes two hours.  Am cramming it all into one.  Feel like am vomiting way too much information.    When will I learn.  Next time will chop out half the slides. Or more.

Stride out of there.

Back up to room.  Throw on running gear.  Exit rear door of hotel.  Onto Locust street. As in the bug.  Wind hits with a solid whoosh.   Ponytail flies straight back.  Horizontally in sync with the road.

Run through deserted looking city.  All the buildings are linked together by sky walks.  Look up and can see people walking from one building into the other.  Like in a sci fi movie where if you breathe the outside air, your eyes pop out, your skin withers up and you die.  So you stay inside in tubes.

Past cool sculptures of unused park.  Turn left on 15th.  Over a bridge.  Reach Gray’s Lake.  Looks like it’s man made.  According to the van driver is naturally fed by the river.  But can see a concrete feeder tube.  Run around it twice. 

Wind doesn’t die down.  Sometimes catch it just right.  Then it sweeps me along.  A bit like Mary Poppins.

Back through deserted city streets.  Into hotel.  Up to room.  Do business.  Rush out.  Catch van back to airport.

Photo:  Gray’s lake run

Paul Luvera’s special timer


Paul Luvera tried a huge case a few months ago.  And won.  At the age of 78. (Here’s his bio).

I have admired (borderline worshipped) Paul over the years for his skill in trial.  Several times I’ve gone to watch.  What  struck me, was the way he so gracefully prowled the courtroom floor.  And owned it.

For the past almost 30 years, our state trial lawyer’s annual convention has featured the Luvera Seminar.  Paul moderated the program based upon ten minute presentations.  If you went over – DING.  The timer went off.  If you didn’t do a good job – ouch.  And even if you did a good job – one never knew how Paul would react.  All of this fear, uncertainty, and mastery combined to create a highly anticipated program.

The first time I spoke at the seminar, it was on spoliation of evidence.  My focus was not simply to survive the experience.  I wanted to impress Paul.

Over the years, Paul has sent me books and quotes or articles he thinks I’ll like.  He is always learning and thinking and wanting to grow more.

This year, Paul decided to end his seminar reign.  The association invited me to take over the permanently named Luvera Seminar.  This is what Paul initially wrote:

“…I was very flattered regarding the name of the program and thrilled you were doing the program at the convention in my place. I told Gerhard (the Executive Director) you had that ability to run the program with observations and advice that people would like. You know  that I admire your continuing search to improve your skills, your  courage in meeting challenges and your potential for even  more greatness as a trial lawyer. I am not one for false praise and  you have been on my short  list of attorneys from whom I expect great things  even with a glass ceiling  in this profession.”

Today in the mail was a package from Paul.  A vintage yellow Sunbeam quartz timer with a note:

“Hi Karen –  Hanna Reisner, the first Executive Director of WSTLA gave me this timer more than 25 years ago to time talks.  I pass on this gift which I used at all of the convention Luvera seminars, or if you prefer, for cooking at home!”

Sometimes I need to pinch myself.  This is one of those moments.

Photo:  Mailing wrapper of Sunbeam timer and Paul N. Luvera’s note.

P.S:  Here’s his blog.

On liking and empowering your own voice


Listening to my own voice used to pain me.  I avoided it.  Couldn’t stand it.  It seemed too high. Too sweet.  And if I didn’t remember to tuck my tongue in, there was a lisp.  Oh, how much I yearned for a deep booming voice.  So I could preach when I spoke.  Like M.L.K.

I started playing piano at the age of seven.  Kept at it through high school.  By the end, I typically practiced two to three hours a day.  My fingers could fly.  At times I dreamed of becoming a professional pianist.  Then reality would intrude.  You see, my hands were too small.  I could reach an octave.  Beyond that, I had to roll the chords.  I was good.  But could never truly be exceptional.

This was my fear as a young attorney.  That my feminine voice, like my small hands, would doom me in the quest to be the best trial lawyer that I could possibly be.

This insecurity was the by product of trying unsuccessfully to emulate male trial lawyer role models and icons.  Eventually I gave up on all of that.  Thank heavens!

Fast forward (a few decades)…

The voice that I worried about so much, is now a trusted and worthy friend.

Judy Shahn teaches a female trial advocacy class with me.  This video clip is of Judy in class this past weekend.

Video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Rlgp7388iU&feature=youtu.be

The honor of introducing Rick Friedman as WSAJ’s trial lawyer of the year


The most coveted award of our trial lawyers association is the Trial Lawyer of the Year Award.

This year it is extra special.  We are at Couer d’Alene at our annual convention.  The Brandeis bust we usually use, is to be forever replaced.  With the Tom Chambers bust.  Tom is in the audience.

Am given eight minutes to make the presentation.  Have gotten background information from Rick’s brother Ken.  As well as photos from Janet of his office.

Here is the PPT:  RickFriedmanTLY2013.pdf.

WSAJ will be providing the video and will upload that later.

What is interesting about the PPT is how many slides there are.  However, don’t feel rushed or that there are too many during the speech.  Several of them are montages, quickly flashed to show the breadth of his verdicts and book writing.

Congratulations Rick.  And thank you Tom!

Photo:  From the PPT.

Todd’s amazing speaker intro: sings, stomps and plays the harmonica



Am at Burlington for Vermont’s annual convention.  Todd Schlossberg comes up to the podium to give my introduction.  What he does next is the single best introduction I’ve ever witnessed at a trial lawyer seminar in my whole entire life.  Am not exaggerating.

Afterwards, ask the audience if anyone knew he could sing, play, or write music.  Only one person had a clue.

So if you are tasked with the job of introducing a speaker.  I dare you to top this.

Video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHzliK8j82A&feature=em-upload_owner


Top 10 Tips from a Voice Coach

speaking.jpgI teach trial advocacy with Judith Shahn who is a voice coach.  Judy has been a senior lecturer at the University of Washington’s School of Drama since 1990.

Here are Judy’s top suggestions for more effective speaking:


Ten Voice Essentials to Remember:


1.      Keep your weight on both feet

(when you move – move deliberately and land on both feet)


2.      Keep your hands relaxed at your sides

(when you have the impulse to gesture – let your hands help you; when you don’t – let them just relax. Don’t hold your hands behind you or in front of you – what are you hiding?) 

3.      Allow your first breath and others may follow

Relax your outer belly muscles (leave the control top panty hose at home) and allow the breath in. Each new thought begins with a breath – thus the word, “inspiration”.

Practice whispering “huh”

 Now voice it – “huh”

 Now say “hey”, “hi”, “hello”, “how are you?”

(can you feel your middle responding?)

 Now, much stronger, “HOW DARE YOU?” The “h” will connect you with your diaphragm. 

4.      Vocal Energy is what carries your words out to all in the courtroom.

In a jury trial, everything you say is for the benefit of the jury, whether it’s opening, closing or examining a witness. If you had a volume dial from 1-10, you should be between 4 and 6 during the trial. 

5.      Speak at the speed of your thinking

If you speak too fast, you leave the jury behind you – speak too slowly, and they are way ahead. Your speed will shift, depending on your thinking: example – “The prosecution is trying to make you believe that the circumstances are enough to convict my client in this case; but, after examining the evidence, I believe you will do the right thing and find Mr. Smith – innocent!” The first part of the sentence wants to move quicker, whereas you want the jury to stay with you for the important words: evidence, right thing, and innocent. 

6.      Employ vocal highlighting

This is something we do naturally when we are expressing something important, but sometimes we forget when we’re under pressure and everything flattens out to sound the same.

Practice emphasizing different words with the simple sentence:

Billy Button bought a bunch of beautiful bananas.

Notice how each new emphasis changes the meaning. Now try with this one:

Mr. Smith never entered the house on Elm Street at 9:00 pm on December 5th, because witnesses identified him at the same time at the George St. Tavern across town. So, he never had the opportunity to murder Sarah Jones. 

7.      Pitch is thought

Human beings use pitch as a way to inflect their thinking and make it more expressive. Pitch is also an emotional response.

As lawyers, you can use pitch to be more authorative, understanding, ironic, humorous, friendly or factual, for example.

Your voice getting stuck on one pitch is like serving the jury the same meal every day or telling the same, predictable joke. Women tend to get stuck on the higher end and men, on the lower end, but either way is deadly.

8.  Timing is everything

Never underestimate the power of rhythm in speaking. Good writers are really aware of it, good actors can accomplish it and good lawyers should take advantage of it. Vary your rhythm as much as possible. Slow down to make a point – use mono syllables when something’s really important. Shakespeare did it:

“that but this blow must be the be all and the end all….here.”

9.“Words are the boats that travel on the river of sound”

This saying is from Kristin Linklater, an internationally renowned voice teacher. In essence, your intention must always be going forward towards the people you are speaking to. If your voice is swallowed or nasal, we are not receiving you.

Practice fluttering your lips: bbrrrreee, bbrrrrrrey, bbrrrrah

or trilling your r’s: rrrrrrreeeeeeeee, rrrrrrrrrrey, rrrrrrrrah

Or practice tossing a ball with someone while you are speaking. Let the final word in your sentence land as the other person catches the ball.

10. There is drama in the room

This may be obvious, but knowing when the light is on you and you are the center of attention is a very important tool. Sensing when to move and when to stay still, when to look directly at someone and when to avoid them, when to be expressive or when to be factual are important tools to have. Playing an intention puts you in charge. For example: are you trying to: educate, inform, entertain, shock, warn, mock, protect, reveal, plead,demand, instruct (or any other intention).  This will inform your way of speaking and ultimately how you get through.

Lawyers cannot take communication for granted. The art of persuasiveness can only be finessed with practice. There is always room for improvement.  It is wise to periodically to reexamine your modes of expressing yourself: your body language, vocal quality, pacing, clarity, phrasing and intentionality.

Cartoon:  By Jay Flynn (c)  2010

Giving Honor to His Honor


We are packed in his former office building.  Reminiscing.  Rubbing elbows.  Smiling and sometimes shedding tears.  Marveling over the career of this brilliant man.

Born over a gas station in rural Washington.  Becoming one of the best plaintiff trial lawyers the state has ever seen.  President of the trial lawyers.  President of the state bar.  And finally Supreme Court Justice.  We are here to honor Tom Chambers.

This video clip features:

Justice Tom Chambers

Lori Haskell, Emcee

Speakers in order:  Chief Justice Barbara Madsen; UW Law School Dean KellyeTesty; Trial lawyers –  Paul Luvera, Karen Koehler, Bill Bailey; Justice Tom Chambers

Youtube link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHGDTRG2l68

Videographer:  Laura Anglin, Justice Chamber’s Supreme Court Clerk

Party planner:  Sheila Gunderson, Tom’s long time assistant

Just how dreadful is it to say “um” and “like” to an audience


Mary Fung cured me from saying “um” when I was still a teenager.  Here’s what she would do:

  1. Count out loud each time I said um
  2. Tell me how silly I sounded
  3. Tell anyone within earshot how silly I sounded

This is what any good Tiger Mom and in her case – Dragon Lady Mom would have done.

I am a little kinder with my kids.  They don’t say “um”.  They say “like”.  They say it so much that I now say it.  Even though I don’t like it (pun intended).  Here are some of the tactics I’ve urged them to try:

  1. Wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it each time you say “like”
  2. Record yourself and hear how many times you say “like” and it will convince you to stop
  3. Occasionally they will let me count them but this usually lasts for about an hour before they say stop.

So far nothing has worked.  And yes, there are actually moments during a solemn trial when I sound just “like” Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde.

Just how awful is it to use a filler word or say like “um” or “like” when speaking in public.

Well, if you ask anyone they will tell you it sounds bad.  The speaker is anxious or unprepared or grasping to sound believable.

But in reality when measuring how an audience is listening, they are not that obsessed or distracted by the filler words.   If used in moderation.  And if the talk is interesting.  (Two big “ifs”).

An interesting psychological analysis can be found in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 19(3), Fall 1995.  Conclusion:  if you are talking about something interesting, the audience will overlook the prevalence of fillers – if they are not too prevalent.

So exactly how perfect am I in trial.  Well, from time to time I use “um” and “like” and other sounds or words that may not be properly grammatical.  This is because I am who I am. Like it or not.

Research Paper:  http://psy2.ucsd.edu/~nchristenfeld/Publications_files/DoUmsHurt.pdf

Check out a recent interview by Super Lawyers about my blog. Yes, I'm a lawyer. But I'm also a human being. I have a doggie named Nala, three daughters, eat brown sugar cinnamon pop tarts for breakfast, and wear jeans as often as possible when not in court.
Favorite Quotations

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
— Nelson Mandela

Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've to say, and say it hot.
— D. H. Lawrence

Why slap them on the wrist with a feather when you can belt them over the head with a sledgehammer.
— Katharine Hepburn

Truth, when not sought after, rarely comes to light.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly.
— Langston Hughes

There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.
— Jane Austen

Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality. — Edgar Allan Poe

If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything, wouldn't you, at any time? And you would achieve nothing! — Margaret Thatcher

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
— Dr. Suess

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.
— Abraham Lincoln

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. — Desmond Tutu

True eloquence consists in saying all that is required and only what is required. — La Rochefoucauld

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. — Aesop

The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free. — Oprah Winfrey

If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative. — Woody Allen

The soul never thinks without a picture. — Aristotle

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. — William Shakespeare

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. — Muhammad Ali

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. — Stephen Hawking

It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand. — Apache proverb

People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost. — Dalai Lama

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
— Anne Frank

Learn to laugh; it is a discipline to be mastered. Let go of the everlasting burden of always needing to sound profound. — Richard J. Foster

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. — Albert Einstein

Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain. — Helen Keller

Remember that lost time does not return. — Thomas á Kempis

If thou faint in the day of adversity thy strength is small. — Proverbs 24:10

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. — Gertrude Stein

It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom. — Albert Einstein

The right of trial by jury shall be preserved. — 7th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees. — Ludacris

And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more.
— Erica Jong

Words are chameleons, which reflect the color of their environment. — Judge Learned Hand

You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefullness, But still, like air, I'll rise. — Maya Angelou

The moment that justice must be paid for by the victim of injustice it becomes itself injustice. — Benjamin Tucker

He who keeps his eye on results cannot give himself wholeheartedly to his task, however simple or complex that task may be. — Howard Thurman

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. — Mahatma Ghandi

Life is painting a picture, not doing a sum. — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr

The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. — Flannery O'Connor

We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles. — Jimmy Carter

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. — Simone Weil

It is not the level of prosperity that makes for happiness but the kinship of heart to heart and the way we look at the world. — Alexander Solzhenitsyn

It is high time that the ideal of success should be replaced by the ideal of service. — Albert Einstein

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. — Elie Wiesel

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. — Bill Cosby

The time is always right to do what is right. — Martin Luther King Jr.

I had rather attempt something great and fail, than to attempt nothing at all and succeed. — Robert Schuller

It is very easy to break down something. You can take a stone and throw it through that window; that is easy. Try fixing it, and that takes longer. It takes longer to help someone who has been broken. That’s the work you’re doing. — Desmond Tutu

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. — Annie Dillard

Mine honor is my life; both grow in one; Take honor from me, and my life is done. — William Shakespeare

To straighten the crooked you must first do a harder thing – straighten yourself. — Buddha

A thought is an idea in transit. — Pythagoras

Fall seven times, stand up eight. — Old Japanese proverb

No generalization is wholly true, not even this one. — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Of what use is eloquence? He who engages in fluency of words to control men often finds himself hated by them. — Confucius

There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. — Martha Graham