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Dissociate (to Separate Bad Image from Good Image in Litigation), by Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm, Persuasive Litigator Blog


At the start of their game last Sunday, members of the L.A. Clippers ceremonially left their warmup jackets in a heap in center court, and warmed up with their shirts turned inside-out in order to conceal the name and logo of the team. This act came in response to recorded comments by team owner Donald Sterling telling his girlfriend ‘not to bring them [‘black people’] to my games.’ The response by the players was a move of dissociation: a way to say “We are not that,” and to clarify, in no uncertain terms, that the owner’s racism does not represent the team. This need to dissociate – to separate one meaning from another – is common in all communication situations, including those that involve the potential for litigation. Recently, for example, General Motors made the bold move of offering a full and complete apology for its inaction in addressing a long-term problem with its ignition switches, but in subsequent congressional testimony, CEO Mary Barra was careful to draw a distinction between the ‘Old General Motors’ prebankruptcy, and the ‘New General Motors’ that today stands before congress, court, and consumers.

Dissocation plays a role in lower profile cases across the country as well. A range of litigation-relevant situations create a need to communicate that ‘we are not this.’ Like most good persuasive strategies, the notion has its roots in rhetoric, the ancient and modern study of the best available means of influence. But the idea is more than just ivory tower philosophy.  Dissociation also translates into some important practical strategies worth considering by trial attorneys in a number of situations. This post takes a look at the underpinning, as well as the concrete strategies of dissociation. . . .