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Improv for the trial lawyer July 27, 2011 - Posted By: Michael

Mike Myers, Rachel Mason, Jimmy Carrane, Andy Dick and Mo Collins                                              (c) used with permission

While it might not seem like a natural combination, I have learned a lot about being a better trial lawyer, and person, from improv. I have done some work informally in groups and with Second City improv instructor Jimmy Carrane.

What does improv have to do with law? When doing improv, you work with your partners and don’t contradict them. Always make your partner look good. This is relevant to trial in jury selection.

One way to do this is an improv exercise called “yes, and…” Whatever somebody else says, you respond “yes, and…” So, if they say “I love to eat pickled mouse brains,” you might respond something like “Yes, and it makes mint chocolate chip ice cream taste even better.” Now, this is a silly example; please don’t read too much into it. And still (notbut but and), it is helpful. If you sweetie says to you “Do you love me?” you’re answer had better not be “yes, but…” We hear yes, but as no.

When a potential juror tells you in jury selection that there are too many frivolous law suits, don’t answer “Yes, but don’t you think that lawsuits make society safer?” That’s fighting with the juror (and just as bad, I think, trying to persuade the juror in jury selection; not because you’re not allowed to persuade, but because you generally can not persuade). Try “Yes, and some people would also say that lawsuits have society safer? How do you feel about that?”  Or even “Yes, and what else can you say about lawsuits?” And get more from that juror or another juror. I prefer to get that juror or another to talk about lawsuits making society safer instead of me volunteering it.

The lesson is to try to remove but from your vocabulary. It gets in the way of creating an emotional connection with a juror, which is the key to persuasion (which will be the subject of my next post.)

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It’s all in the eyes

Studies in cognitive neuroscience have shown that fear, surprise, happiness and other emotions trigger the amygdala in the brain based on the the amount of white in the eyes. While the orbitofrontal cortex and other parts of the brain decode complex facial expressions, the amygdala is quick and simple and responds based on just one thing--how much eye white is showing.

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