David Boies is one of the most famous trial lawyers in the United States. He has been the big name in many high profile cases, including Bush v. Gore during the 2000 election, and U.S. Department of Justice v. Microsoft in an anti-trust suit.
And yet “the lawyer that everyone wants” (New York Times) struggles with dyslexia.
He didn’t learn to read until the third grade, when Marvel comic strips provided the impetus to figure out how words work. He improved over time, but still confesses to being a slow reader. He reckons he reads more slowly by half than the average reader.
Despite the struggle, some of the downsides of dyslexia actually forced coping mechanisms that turned into great strengths. Because of his reading difficulty, courtroom scripts never worked very well for Boies; he was forced to commit his legal points to memory. But as he found, this strategy allows him greater freedom to judge the sentiment in the jury and improvise on the fly. He is also able to break the one firm and fast rule of witness cross-examination, which is to never ask a question if you don’t know the answer! Boies has the flexibility to weave in and around facts to fish for the answer he wants instead of being tied to a script.
Some of the positives characteristics of dyslexia have turned out to be a strength in the courtroom as well. Dyslexics often have a superb grasp of something called ‘gist’, or the big picture. “[Dyslexia] is a disability in learning. It is not an intelligence disability. It doesn’t mean you can’t think,” Boies explains. “[As a lawyer and a dyslexic], you are always trying to figure out where something’s going–to put it in context.”
He feels strongly that children should not be given the wrong picture of literacy in school, especially if they are struggling. In fact, two of his own children have dyslexia. “Reading has nothing to do with intelligence,” he says. “It’s just one way of getting information. The important thing is how a person processes that information, the kind of person we are, the contributions we make, and the kind of utility we have for society.”
Sarah Forrest is an Easyread Coach for the Easyread System, an online phonics course that helps improve learning difficulties in children through short, fun lessons every day. For more information about how Easyread provides support for spelling and reading problems, visit www.easyreadsystem.com or www.facebook.com/easyreadsystem.