Kanye West draws a lot of attention, but maybe not enough from litigators. Rocky Dhir hosts a conversation at the State Bar of Texas’ 2019 Annual Meeting with Elliot Mayén and Brent Turman. Their discussion focuses on the attributes, lifestyle, and public persona of Kanye West. They talk about the strategies the rap artist uses, such as the way he communicates through his albums, the challenges he faced while rising to fame, and how he found his voice through his style in music.
Elliot Mayén is a filmmaker and marketing consultant with a background in photography, design and music at DHD Films.
Brent Turman is a senior associate at Bell Nunnally & Martin LLP.
Special thanks to our sponsor, LawPay.
State Bar of Texas Podcast
State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting 2019: What Kanye Can Teach Us About Litigation
Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice, with your host Rocky Dhir.
Rocky Dhir: Hello and welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, recorded from the Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. This is Rocky Dhir and I am the host for today’s show, which is being sponsored by LawPay, trusted by more than 35,000 law firms to accept legal payments online. It’s the only payment solution offered as a member benefit by the State Bar of Texas.
And joining me now I have Brent Turman and Elliot Mayén.
Brent Turman: Thank you for having us Rocky.
Elliot Mayén: Thank you.
Rocky Dhir: Welcome guys. Great to have you. So before we start talking about, and I want to hold off on the title and the topic, because this is just too much fun, but before we get started, tell us about what you do.
So Elliot, let’s start with you.
Elliot Mayén: Yeah, it’s a good place to start, because I just want to caveat here, I am not a lawyer.
Rocky Dhir: Congratulations. This is great, wow.
Elliot Mayén: So I am here in a media consulting capacity. I am actually the Lead Producer at DHD Films, which is a production studio based out of Dallas, Texas and there I produce, direct and also offer marketing consulting services and brand management strategies.
Rocky Dhir: Good plug. That was a great plug for all of our audience members, all right.
And Brent, how about you?
Brent Turman: Yeah. My name is Brent Turman. I am a litigator in Dallas, Texas at the full-service firm of Bell Nunnally & Martin. I also practice entertainment law when I am in the courtroom; we have literary publishing, we have film, television, media, production, music, just kind of all around there.
Rocky Dhir: Very cool. So now let’s talk for a second, I am just going to pick a random topic out of the air, Kanye West.
Brent Turman: So random.
Rocky Dhir: I know, where did I come up with that?
Brent Turman: What a coincidence.
Rocky Dhir: It’s not like you guys talked about that today.
Brent Turman: For an hour.
Rocky Dhir: Yeah, for an hour about what Kanye West can teach us about litigation. So first things first, are we talking about Kanye could be a great litigator or are we saying Kanye’s life has some lessons in there for those of us that litigate?
Brent Turman: The latter, but wouldn’t you love to see him in the courtroom.
Rocky Dhir: I would actually love — what I would anticipate is that he would just interrupt opposing counsel in the middle of their closing argument and take over the stage.
Brent Turman: He wouldn’t let them finish.
Rocky Dhir: Especially if opposing counsel is Taylor Swift.
Brent Turman: Yeah, exactly, exactly, we talked about that in the presentation.
Rocky Dhir: You have to talk about that anytime Kanye is mentioned. So let’s talk about Kanye, what can we learn from this guy?
Brent Turman: So much. We can take a lot of lessons. Before Kanye was successful, he didn’t have a big target on his back, there weren’t a lot of lawsuits against him, but we take lessons we can learn from his personal life, his attributes, the way he behaves when he is in the public eye.
Rocky Dhir: His attributes, okay, this ought to be interesting.
Brent Turman: You can learn a lot from what he does and how those translate to really skills that litigators can use in their practice.
Rocky Dhir: Yeah, okay. So can you give us a few of those, what are some of the skills and —
Elliot Mayén: So I think one of the things that maybe surprises people when they come to the talk and listen to what we have to say is that everybody knows the Kanye that’s really easy to hate, the Kanye these days, but you have to understand that it took a lot of work to get to where he was to be able to say the things that he can say, right, you have to get to a certain place in your life.
So hard work is one of the things that we have picked up on, there is a lot of hard work in his early life.
Rocky Dhir: He is talented though. I mean anybody who is really into his music will say that there is some genius there in his actual talent base.
Brent Turman: I can tell you about it.
Rocky Dhir: Well, sure, and maybe that’s another thing litigators can learn just —
Brent Turman: But Elliot can talk about the hard work with just getting his first album out.
Elliot Mayén: Yeah, absolutely. I mean he would stay before work, after work. He was in a place where he had entered the game, but he was still at the bottom of the game, right?
Rocky Dhir: This is when he entered the world of music.
Elliot Mayén: Yeah. He was signed officially to — he was on a label, Roc-A-Fella label, and so he was there, but they weren’t really letting him do his music, they were making him do tracks, backing tracks, beats for other people, because that’s what he was good at. He wanted to rap, but they were like no, that’s not what you are here for.
So he would stay late and he would come in early and he did it so much that he exhausted himself and he was in a car wreck, famously, right before he released his first album, wired his jaw shut, and then the track through the wire, right, so he rapped that through the wired jaw. So a lot of dedication which —
Rocky Dhir: A lot of tenacity, almost.
Elliot Mayén: A lot of tenacity. And I know that from knowing Brent and the legal world, there are long hours here, so there are some similarities and crossovers in the passion you have to have for work in order to get to a certain spot.
Brent Turman: And we talk about some of the earlier cases I was on, where it’s a different business model than a lot of cases, but it’s a contingency model and you can really take advantage of that and dive deep, because at the end of the day you can go down so many rabbit holes, you can know everything forwards and backwards, you can know everything, doesn’t matter what white-shoe firm you are against, it doesn’t matter if opposing counsel went to Harvard; no offense if anywhere out there went to Harvard, it doesn’t matter, if you know everything better than them, if you are the unofficial subject matter expert, you have a leg up and you can efficiently effectively represent your client.
Rocky Dhir: What about trial techniques? Is there something that Kanye can teach us about actually getting into the courtroom and delivering your message?
Brent Turman: Not directly, but I mean we talk about his strategy he used. There was one album; he just was fresh off the tour with U2 and he saw how you can change the way you communicate. He structured songs where there was a gap for kind of a call and response and these are songs you can play in an arena and you can have fans, thousands and thousands of fans screaming it back.
And so just thinking about how you communicate strategy and we talk about the difference if you are speaking to a judge or a jury, that’s a very different audience, and there is a fine line you have got to walk as far as making sure you can communicate effectively to a jury without talking down to them, but also keeping it simple enough where you are not speaking legalese and in Latin and cross your fingers hoping they will follow you.
Rocky Dhir: Getting the jury to kind of say stuff along with you as a lawyer, is that where we are going?
Brent Turman: No call and response yet, we can aspire.
Rocky Dhir: We can hope. We can push for a rules change maybe.
Brent Turman: Yeah.
Elliot Mayén: Well, one of the other things we covered that I think is maybe a little bit more on the controversial side, if you will, is strategically working to get a response out of people. Kanye is not dumb. I think sometimes he does the things that he does knowing that he is going to get a rise out of people, and I think Brent covers in part of the presentation how you can do that strategically in the courtroom and kind of throw your opponent by making them kind of get off-kilter and maybe get in their feelings a little bit and lose their cool just by being strategic about the things you say or how you go about things.
Brent Turman: And you can throw some bait out there and hope they take it, because at the end of the day it’s going to be good. We talked about an example where you are with a witness looking through documents, I have got a big stack of document standing 3 feet from the jury, we are looking at all these documents and talking about them, offering them into evidence, opposing counsel jumps up, objection, your honor, these are inadmissible because of A, B and C, may we approach. Get there.
At the end of the day the judge did not let them in, and I didn’t care. I mean the goal was to have the jury think plaintiff’s counsel is trying to hide something, they don’t want me to see what’s in those documents. So sometimes the reaction is more important than the substance.
Rocky Dhir: Okay. So now, this actually is kind of interesting, the story you just told or the example you just gave, because we also hear a lot about civility in the courtroom and trying to make sure you play by the rules and be very civil with the opposing party. So how do you thread that needle between trying to get a rise out of somebody and still being — still working within the rules of professionalism, if you will?
Brent Turman: Well, honestly, I wasn’t trying to make them angry. I just wanted them to make, not a scene, but I wanted the jury see them trying to make sure evidence didn’t get in. It wasn’t necessarily an aggressive or anger thing. I mean life is too short to always be upset at everybody and a partner in our firm kind of taught me opposing counsel is not out to get you. They don’t wake up trying to ruin your day or your night or your weekend. So it’s just using the strategic tools you have to best represent your client.
Elliot Mayén: And sometimes it’s also about knowing how far you can push the envelope and then drawing back, and this is where we use Kanye as a negative example, don’t do what he does. He doesn’t know how to post punches sometimes.
Rocky Dhir: Okay. So Kanye can teach us about litigation not only in terms of the do column, but also the don’t column it sounds like.
Brent Turman: Exactly.
Rocky Dhir: So Brent, this example you gave or the response that you gave, it seems to suggest that maybe what we learn from Kanye is how to be strategic in trying to elicit a response, but then Elliot, you are saying, don’t take it too far as lawyers.
Elliot Mayén: Exactly, yeah, you have to measure yourself.
Rocky Dhir: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Now, last question, we could talk about Kanye all day, this is a very fascinating topic, but last question for now is are there certain, if you will, traits that Kanye has just personally, aside from his antics, but say his traits, his presence, the way he communicates that we as lawyers might want to take a second look at and learn from?
Elliot Mayén: I think one of the things that I like to pick up on is that a lot of the work that I do with clients is really about establishing their brand, whether it be their personal brand or the brand of an organization and all of that has to be deliberate. So everything you do is telling a story.
I like to tell people, the way that you dress, the way that you enter a room, the way that your office looks, if your letterhead matches your business cards, all of that’s telling a constructed story about who you are and whether they know it or not people will pick up on that. And I think Kanye, whether we think so or not, is very strategic about the way that he goes around crafting his personal image, and again, I am not saying that anyone should necessarily aspire to that kind of image, but maybe to that kind of attention to detail and how one constructs a holistic brand around again themselves or their organization.
Rocky Dhir: To exercise deliberation as opposed to just throwing stuff up on the wall.
Elliot Mayén: Yeah, deliberate action is what I would say.
Brent Turman: And I would say it’s important to find your voice. So we talk a lot about how Kanye came in with a very different sound, it sounds like kind of a pitched up, chipmunk soul is what they branded it, using old samples from way back. But it’s finding your own voice. It’s not trying to be — the hip-hop game was very different when it came out. We have got people bragging about how many times they have been shot and all the crimes they have committed. Kanye worked at the GAP and wore pink Polos and he was proud of it. So he knew what he was and was true to that.
I know a lot of young lawyers try to be someone they are not and they try to beat their chest when they shouldn’t. I mean sometimes you get more flies with honey than vinegar and that can be a strategy you use whenever you flip the switch later, it’s going to throw people off, and you can also — if you play nice, you can get some nice information at depositions.
But it’s just kind of borrowing what you see older attorneys and partners do what you like, borrowing some of that as long as it can work for you and just learning to be true to yourself.
Rocky Dhir: Authenticity it sounds like.
Brent Turman: Uh-huh.
Rocky Dhir: Well, it looks like we have reached the end of our program. I want to thank both Brent and Elliot for joining us today. Thank you guys for being here. This was fun.
Brent Turman: Yeah, thank you.
Elliot Mayén: Yes.
Rocky Dhir: I never expected to talk about Kanye West on the State Bar of Texas Podcast. This was fun.
Brent Turman: Yeah. Well, thank you for having us.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely. Now, if our listeners have questions, they have got follow up, how do they get a hold of you, what’s the best way? So Elliot, let’s start with you.
Elliot Mayén: Yeah. So you can obviously visit the website of the company I currently work for, dhdfilms.com, or you can email me directly at [email protected] or find me on LinkedIn.
Brent Turman: And you can find me on Bell Nunnally & Martin’s website. It is Bell, like you ring the bell, and then Nunnally, and [email protected] and also you can find me on LinkedIn as well.
Rocky Dhir: That is all the time we have for this episode of the State Bar of Texas Podcast, brought to you by LawPay. Thank you again LawPay. Also, thank you to our listeners for tuning in.
If you like what you heard, please rate and review us in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.
I am Rocky Dhir, until next time, thank you for listening.
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