I only met Frank Sinatra once, but I learned a lot from him.
I grew up with is music, heard it at dances at Maryville College where the elderly chaperones would tap you on the shoulder if you held the girls too close. I saw him on the big screen and bought dozens of his records. The man with the golden voice had a swagger and an electricity that delighted swooning bobbysoxers and taught me something about confidence and how to connect with an audience. Ol’ Blue Eyes always seemed to know exactly what he was doing, and he made it look easy. He understood the importance of composure. He had a lot of talent but he knew talent alone wasn’t enough.
I met Frank Sinatra in the course of a lawsuit over the private plane crash that killed his mother Natalie when she was on her way to see him open at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Sinatra and the widows of the pilot and co-pilot who were also killed in the accident sued the government because faulty directives from an air traffic controller caused the crash. I represented one of the widows, and the case later settled.
Normally only lawyers are comfortable in deposition, but if Sinatra was apprehensive, he didn’t let on. He was as gracious and compelling as I had hoped he would be. I still remember the first question put to the crooner and his reply.
“Are you Frank Sinatra the entertainer?”
“There’s only one of me.”
Sinatra once told a write that what he sings, he believes. He said “if you want to get an audience with you, there’s only one way. You have to reach out to them with total honesty and humility. An audience is like a broad, if you’re indifferent- splitsville.” The wording may be politically incorrect today but the message is true for lawyers and juries. You need the facts on your side but you also have to reach out to jurors and connect with their emotions. If you’re indifferent, you may as well have given up. If you approach your audience with dedication, truth and sincerity you will get your message across.
Frank Sinatra put everything he had into every song. When he was blue he was as sad as could be. When he was happy he was flying to the moon. It was all, it was everything, but no matter what his extreme he always performed it with style. In his Chairman of the Board years his style was a mature command of everything around him. In his younger years his style was evident even in the way he wore his hat. He always seemed to be photographed looking out from under the brim of one hat or another. He still looks great in those photos today; years after those hats went out of style.
For lawyers the extreme is known as zealous advocacy. It is the most passionate prosecution or defense that intellect and words can create. It is taking the facts and the law and presenting them with the same passions Sinatra sang of love and loneliness. Like Sinatra legal argument should always be done with style. When he sang sad songs his was the lament of the loser not the scream of the rejected. When he sang happy songs he soared and glowed, it wasn’t the bombast of a victor.
Sinatra didn’t write his own material. He sang the songs of composers like Gershwin, Berlinand Cole Porter. He took their material and gave it his own voice, often mellow, sometimes melancholy, and frequently joyous. His tones evoked feelings in his audience. He knew his songs and how subtle or bold each should be sung. It’s the same for lawyers only we don’t get our material from top composers. Lawyers use the facts and the law give voice to the people they represent. Good lawyers know when to be subtle and when to be bold, and like Sinatra, they know that bluster is never part of style.
Here’s to you Frank. Had you been a lawyer, I bet you would have been one of the best.