Trial In Action reviewed in Trial Talk®

Trial in Action - The Power of Psychodrama Trial Lawyers College

Book Review by Larry D. Lee, Esq. in Trial Talk® 

Over twenty plus years in practice, I have read a lot of books about lawyering and trial practice, and after a while, they start to sound the same. The same recycled and regurgitated ideas, the same rules, the same strategies. But every now and then, a book comes along with new and revolutionary ideas that break the monotony of the traditional way of preparing and trying a case. Trial in Action: The Persuasive Power of Psychodrama is such a book. You’ve read Rick Friedman; you’ve read David Ball; you’ve read Gerry Spence. If you want to take the next step in your development as a trial lawyer, you owe it to yourself to read Trial in Action.

The authors, Joane Garcia-Colson, Fredilyn Sison and Mary Peckham, trial lawyers and certified psychodramatists, take us into the world of psychodrama, beginning with its history of use in law, then move on to describe the specific tools and techniques trial lawyers use, both in preparing and presenting cases. The authors present the origins of the psychodramatic method thoroughly and cogently without being dense. Many texts on psychodrama, most of which are meant for mental health professionals, are difficult to understand, let alone apply to the practice of law. Trial in Action pulls together for the first time in one place, a comprehensive analysis of the use of psychodrama in all. Aspects of trial practice. It makes this powerful method accessible and understandable for the trial lawyer and covers what the practicing lawyer needs to know about psychodrama.

Not only do Joane Garcia-Colson, Sison and Peckham do a masterful job of explaining the tools of psychodrama in a cogent, accessible and easily understandable way, they also show the reader how to apply the tools in the real world. The reader understands immediately that the authors speak from experience with the method, rather than from an ivory tower. All of the authors have significant experience working with and teaching trial lawyers about psychodrama. This skill is palpable throughout the book.

Psychodrama is part psychology, part improvisational theatre, part communication and part emotion. It is an action method, a method of communication and a roleplaying modality. It is the exploration of the truth through dramatic action. It is a way to learn about yourself and others, and through this, gain the ability to communicate effectively.

Trial in Action begins with an overview of psychodrama, its origins and how trial lawyers came to use it. One of the first chapters of the book takes the reader into a traditional psychodrama session, laying the foundation for the chapters that follow. In a clear and straightforward fashion, the authors show us the power of a psychodrama session, how it connects the audience to the subject (called the protagonist), taps into universal truths and facilitates empathy. During a psychodrama, participants dramatize or act out events from their lives as a play. It is a three-dimensional spontaneous reenactment presented in the moment with no script or rehearsal. Through the re-enactment, the protagonist gains insight or understanding of him or herself or significant others that he or she can achieve only by this physical action. This early chapter helps the reader understand the power of this method and its therapeutic impact on those who participate in such sessions. lt is a great introduction to the power of psychodrama.

The authors next take the time to explain to the reader why and how psychodrama works and how it can help the trial lawyer both personally and professionally. The book then turns to a description and explanation of several specific psychodramatic tools that trial lawyers use most often. In this section, the reader is guided step-by-step in a "how to" of each tool. Clear, concise examples bring these tools to life. The reader learns how to discover and explore the client’s story and to prepare for trial. This section lays the foundation necessary for the trial lawyer to apply these tools in their practice.

The last section of the book shifts to the application of the tools to each phase of trial, from jury selection to closing argument. The authors provide clear examples that effectively illustrate the points they are making. Every skill chapter presents new ideas for witness preparation and story development and ends with a checklist for application. The authors provide and explain several useful charts for organizing information discovered through re-enactment. While this section is meant to be read as a whole, each chapter stands alone and can easily be referred to when preparing for trial.

Of the many things I admire about this book, chief among them is how it shows us what we miss when we don’t use the tools of psychodrama and how the use of psychodrama brings the jury into the action, as if they had been there when it occurred. Clients come to us because something significant has happened to them. It might be that they have been in an accident, or they are charged with a crime. Whatever brings them to our office is a meaningful experience in that client’s life. The authors show us how to re-enact this event so that we have a shared experience with our clients; we hear, see and feel their stories. The use of psychodrama helps the client educate his lawyer about what happened to him, how it has affected his life, and perhaps more importantly, who he is. At the same time, re-enacting the client’s episode enhances our ability to share the client’s story in the courtroom in a much more powerful, human and effective way.

As most successful lawyers know, a trial is as much an art form as it is a test of facts. And some of us are more skilled than others are. It can often be difficult to understand and appreciate the emotional content of a client’s story. Lawyers have been trained to overlook or discount emotion. The authors show us the power of emotion and its importance in persuasion.

Trial in Action will help all trial lawyers with the difficult, more intangible skills we need to be successful, such as telling our clients’ story in "3D" so the jury hears, sees and feels it, performing in the courtroom, empathizing with our clients, and understanding witnesses, experts and opposing parties’ motivations. The book also teaches useful skills to more effectively prepare our cases and take them from intake to trial.

The authors point out that psychodrama is not a short cut or a recipe for success. It takes courage to go this route and immerse oneself in this method. Those lawyers who have achieved the greatest results in using this method have committed themselves to personal exploration and the development of skill in using the tools of psychodrama.

The techniques explored in this book will help the trial lawyer learn to embrace the importance of finding the universal truths in every case and communicating their client’s story more effectively to a jury. Not only is this book invaluable, but it is also an essential handbook for the practitioner’s bookshelf.

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Larry Lee has served on CTLA’s Board of Directors since 1994. He is a Diplomat of the National College of Advocacy (AAJ). Larry practices in Boulder, CO. CTLA will present him with the 2011 Outstanding Service to CTLA Award in May.

Trial Guides would also like to acknowledge Larry Lee as one of the company's first repeat customers, and one who was influential in spreading the word about the books and videos published by Trial Guides early in the company's history.

Reprinted with permission of Trial Talk®. ©2011. Colorado Trial Lawyers Association. All Rights Reserved.