Lawyering on Your Feet

Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating an information session for other lawyers that sought to connect improvisation and the law. The goal was to show the attendees that they could implement the lessons of improvisational techniques to improve their legal careers.

Now we all know that the law is not about making things up on the fly. It takes careful preparation and research before I feel ready to make a legal argument. I will spend hours understanding the facts and the law completely before I step into a courtroom or begin a written submission to the court.

But it is also important as a trial lawyer to be able to think on your feet. Witnesses do not always testify exactly in the way that you expect. Your opposing counsel will often act in ways that you cannot predict. The judge might give rulings that are contrary to the law and to the ways in which you had planned to present your case. All of these things happen at trial, and the best lawyers are the ones that are best able to react intelligently to unforeseen events.

This is where improvisational thinking can come in handy. One of the core tenets of improvisational thought and performance is the reliance on “yes, and…” responses. The idea is that you would be working with a partner, and that partner might do anything while up on that stage. The performers are taught to respond positively to anything that their partner says or does—to be able to take any input and create something productive with it.

That was the main lesson on the “Improv for Lawyers” class that I moderated at the Boardwalk Convention of the New Jersey Association for Justice. To be a good trial lawyer, you cannot get flustered or shut down at every negative thing that might occur during trial. You must be so knowledgeable about the facts and so knowledgeable about the law and confident enough in your abilities that you can respond productively to anything said or done by your adversary or the court or any witness.

We at the Locks Law Firm only employ those kind of trial lawyers. And we only go to trial when we know that we are ready to respond productively to any possibility that might come up in the courtroom.