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Moe Levine On Loss

Do you read the blog for good advice. How about this advice??


Now let me write a bit about a lawyer who is legendary in law circles. Moe Levine passed away in 1974, but he still lives on in his recording and writings. Many of his openings and closings have been transcribed and have lived on as examples of advocacy.

To give you an example of one of his closings, these few sentences come from a personal injury case in the 1960’s, where he was seeking damages in a double amputation trial. In expressing the everyday losses of his client, he said the following to the jury,

I need not call any army of experts and parade before you countless medical professionals to illustrate this boy’s loss. I need only tell you that I had lunch with him today, and he ate his food like a dog.”

It’s true that what he said was probably objectionable, because he was basically testifying in closing. However, it’s an example of the way that he thought, in conveying loss.

His primary discussion in discussing what a person has lost was summarized in this statement, “It’s not what the defendants have taken from the injured plaintiff, but rather what they left him or her with.” Here is how he conveyed that in a closing:

If a man with 20/20 vision has an accident and is left with 20/40 vision, you have taken his 20/20 vision from him. But you’ve left him 20/40 and he has good function with 20/40. On the other hand, if you take a man with 20/200 vision, who barely sees light and you blind him, you’ve left him with nothing.” This reframe is subtle, but powerful. In another example, Levine poses to the jury, “suppose you had a million dollars, and I took five hundred thousand dollars away. I would have taken a great deal of money from you but I would have left you with a half million dollars. As you still have a half million dollars, you are not left broke. On the other hand, suppose you had one dollar, and that dollar is taken from you. You now have nothing.

In yet another example, he compares loss to a candle, where the smallest candle makes the darkness tolerable. “You blow out the candle, and you are left with the abysmal fear of blackness: no light left. You have taken it all“.

He believed that the Old Testament was a good source of example in considering damages. He conveyed the loss of  enjoyment of life as described in the book of Ecclesiasteswhere it says that it is right and good that when a man has finished this day’s labor, he shall enjoy living.”

I enjoy looking back at the arguments of past lawyers. Most have not withstood the sands of time. But, Moe Levine’s thoughts on damages are still applicable today. In law school, my mock court professor played some old recordings from speeches that Levine made, in the 50’s and 60’s. At the time, it didn’t mean much to me. Now, as I look back, I have a great appreciation of that education. Life experiences had not yet prepared me to appreciate the discussion of loss.


And for pic o’ day……


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