Trial in Action Reviewed in The Champion

Trial in Action - National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Reviewed by Linda Friedman Ramirez in the The Champion (Summer 2010)

Does knowing ourselves make any difference in whether we can persuade juries to empathize with our client? Does being authentic about how we feel have a role in our practice? Isn’t it our training to "act" as if we believe our client and his "version" of events? In a particularly horrendous case, aren’t we "masking" our true feelings?

The authors would likely answer these questions with a resounding "No." The three are lawyers and trial skill educators who have taught communication skills to lawyers and nonlawyers alike.

Trial in Action: The Persuasive Power of Psychodrama is a primer on psychodrama and an exceptional manual on trial skills. It is hard to sit still as you work your way through this book. The authors come from three different practice areas — family law (Mary Peckham), plaintiff’s civil practice (Joane Garcia-Colson), and criminal law (Fredilyn Sison). They believe in the power of connection that comes from knowing ourselves and our clients and our willingness to confront the hard questions in our cases. The premise of the book is that "the power of psychodrama lies not in the intellect but in emotion, connection, and realization that as human beings we share many universal stories and are not alone. A psychodrama gets people involved emotionally; it moves them and stimulates their desire and need to help the person working through his or her issues." The authors’ idea is that finding, understanding, and transmitting the story of the case — all through the use of psychodramatic methods — underlie effective communication and connection.

Psychodrama is part psychology, improvisational theatre, communication, and emotion. During a psychodrama session, participants dramatize or act out events from their lives and re-enact those events as recalled by the main "actor," known as the "protagonist." As such, psychodrama becomes a way to learn about oneself and others and through this, gain the ability to communicate more effectively.

We all give great lip service to the problem of "thinking like a lawyer." This book is different because if lawyers employ the psychodramatic methods explained by the authors, they can use their own emotional reactions — rather than assumption or stereotype — to gain insight into how jurors will experience the client’s story.

The first chapters of the book take us into a traditional psychodrama session, laying the foundation for the chapters that follow. During the session, the protagonist connects to the group and vice versa as common themes and universal truths are shared. Through the reenactment, the protagonist gains insight or understanding of himself that he experiences through action rather than words. Likewise, the lawyer can re-enact the client’s meaningful experience through psychodramatic techniques in the courtroom to tell the client’s story in a much more powerful, human, and effective way.

The book provides a description and explanation of several specific psychodramatic tools that are used most often by trial lawyers. The reader is guided step-by-step and shown how to use each tool. The book later applies these tools to each phase of trial, from jury selection to closing argument. As a result, you cannot read Trial in Action in one sitting. The authors clearly want readers to practice and build on their experience. I have already folded pages in my copy, and will be rereading the chapter on storytelling many times over. I am excited to find a trial manual written entirely by women lawyers, although the authors clearly seek to empower all lawyers and at all levels of trial experience.

Reprinted with permission of The Champion (January/February 2011).
Copyright National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.