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Trial in Action: The Persuasive Power of Psychodrama

How to tell the story behind your client’s actions

Excerpts of a Book Review of Trial in Action by Donna Bader. Originally published in Plaintiff magazine.

Knowing a client’s story and under­standing the motivation behind his or her actions is not essential for trial work. Or so some attorneys seem to think. But knowing and telling the story of your client’s motivation puts a human face on that story at trial, and can make all the difference between an ordinary and an extraordinary attorney.

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Trial in Action: The Persuasive Power of Psychodrama is not a book that be­longs on your bookshelf where it can be ignored. It is not meant to collect dust while the trial lawyer tries his or her cases in the “ordinary” way. It is a book that should be read immediately and often be­ cause the better you know and under­ stand the principles, the more effective you will be as you try your next case. As an added bonus, the more you will enjoy trying cases.

The premise of Trial in Action is that trial lawyers need to be skilled at story­ telling, voice and diction, psychology and group dynamics. They also need to be empathetic. Essentially, lawyers need to overcome the jurors’ bias against them by building trust. Psychodrama, “the science that explores the truth through dramatic methods,” can be applied to show jurors that the attorney is humane and open, and really no different than they are. These skills used in psychodrama, such as role play and role reversal, are part of the lawyer’s journey of personal exploration, which in turn allows the attorney to be more real and genuine about the client’s case.

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Trial in Action provides an overview of psychodrama and describes how it has been used by trial lawyers in the past. The authors write in a style that is easy to understand. It covers specific tools and techniques in detail, providing examples and exercises to help the reader. It also describes how to conduct a mock jury trial using these new techniques. The mock jurors are more actively involved than with traditional methods, telling the attorney their perspective, information they want to see filled in, and what they are thinking. In essence, the lawyer finds out what the jury cares about. The au­thors show how a trial attorney can apply these tools to each part of the trial from start to finish.

I have observed psychodrama and believe that it can be a real advantage for a trial attorney who understands how to use it. Not only would it help the attorney understand the “story,” but it would bring a sense of humanity, empa­thy, and yes, even fun, to trial work. This book is a great start in that direction.

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For the full review of Trial in Action please see a PDF of the original article in Plaintiff magazine.

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