Clive Stafford Smith is an amazing person and one of my heroes. He turned down a lucrative career in law to go and be the last hope of many people finding themselves facing the death penalty in America. He was the person you hoped that you would never need but would be very pleased to see if you did.
Most of his clients were poor and not very literate or familiar with the legal system. In some cases they had been given public laywers who were totally useless (if your lawyer has a drug problem or is going through a nervous breakdown he probably will not do the best job of putting your case) or a judge who fell asleep in the trial (but then he had already decided that the person was guilty).
He is now based in the UK and setup Reprieve (an organisation to campaign for justice). When asked in an interview why he choose to represent the Guantanamo detainees, he responded that “liberty is eroded at the margins”.
Here is what I think all businesses should learn from him.
1. Doing your job properly is very important to your clients. Thankfully, it is not usually a matter of life and death to them but it may be critical to them professionally or personally. So show them you take it as seriously as they do. It should not be just a job to either of you.
2. Some things in life need to be done regardless of the cost. In general we should keep a tight grip on our time and expenses. But doing what you really believe in is the only real way to be remarkable.
3. Tell the story. In 1987, Clive Stafford Smith made a documentary called 14 Days in May. It covered the fortnight before the execution of Edward Earl Johnson. It did not judge or justify, it just told the story and let us see the the prisoner, his family, the officials involved. It showed us the preparations and the desperate final appeals. It remains the most electrifying thing I have every watched. Can you make what you do into a compelling story (hint – a compelling story needs to be genuine, have passion and people)?
4. You do not need a large team and lots of funds. Clive Stafford Smith has taken on the US and the UK governments on a threadbare budget and with little money. Sometimes money would have indeed helped but it is not a guarantee of success.
5. You can be a major influence of how people see your ‘product’/activities. Clive Stafford Smith’s clients include murders, rapists and the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Some of them are truly evil and some of them are totally innocent and badly let down by the system (with every shade inbetween). He makes them all seem human and has really transformed the way many people see Guantanamo Bay. What you do and say can very easily build or toxify what you do.
6. Have a sense of humour. In his 2006 Longford Lecture Clive Stafford Smith recounted how he took books into the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. These were subject to censorship and it became a running joke that authors contributed books for free just to see how much would be banned. And he also took magazines in – Runners World was banned on the pretext it might somehow help prisoners to escape. Don’t laugh at serious things, but sometimes a little humour helps to lighten otherwise tough experiences and brings out the humanity in people.
You can find out more about Clive Stafford Smith at the Reprieve website.