Overcoming Tough Issues in Trial- Knowing Ourselves


Exploring who we are.

Today, we are the person we have become as a result of our individual life experiences and our choices.  Those life experiences include the good, the bad, and maybe, something we think is unspeakable.   Many will go through their entire life without thinking or looking at why they think, act, or react in this world.  Why is it important?  Why should we care?  Besides, isn’t it easier to ignore it and keep living life the same way we’ve been doing it?  Change isn’t easy, especially changing something that has been ingrained in us as a child.   I relate to Alfred Adler’s view, “there can no longer be any doubt that everything we call a body shows a striving to become a whole”. [1](Rogers, 1980 p. 113)  We lawyers all have that paper on our wall that says, “Attorney and Counselor at Law”.  Is that all we need to win?  What if we really listened to ourselves, our gut, and continued our search for ways to get better?

In 1975, John Ackerman was searching for better ways to teach lawyers.  While President of the National College for Criminal Defense, Ackerman was not satisfied with lecture style of teaching students, and was searching for a way to help lawyers become more creative, spontaneous, and intuitive so that they would be better able to deal with the constant changes in the courtroom.  He talked with John Johnson, a social worker, who after thinking and researching, came up with psychodrama. [2] (Nolte, 2008 p. 264-265)

Similarly, sensing I needed something more, I began searching for answers.  Everything I knew about lawyering came from other lawyers, many of which were doing it wrong.  Do you remember phrases like, “Can you be fair and impartial?” or “I take it by your silence that you can”  They were silent because it wasn’t real or genuine.  Jurors are intuitive and they can see right through the facades, and tricks, that we sometimes feel the urge to employ.  It isn’t productive and we know it.  Again, Gary Trichter was teaching and he said something like, “all lawyers need some psychotherapy”.   After searching the internet for “psychotherapy”, I found the Trial Lawyer’s College (TLC) in Wyoming founded by Gerry Spence in 1994.  Fortunately, Ackerman, with the help of John Johnson, had introduced psychodrama to his friend, Spence, who incorporated it into his Trial College from the beginning.  I think he saw psychodrama as a way to teach others what he had discovered in his journey.

Psychodrama was developed by Jacob L. Moreno.  He defined it as exploring the truth by dramatic methods.  We live in the same world with each other, but we all experience it differently.  My truth or perception of this world is different than yours and anyone on the jury.  Psychodrama explores an individual’s perception of the world or universe. [3] Although you can read about it in a book, psychodrama is learned best by experiencing it.  For me, it has helped me recognize and understand why I am the way I am and provides a way for me to explore other ways to live.  As an example, I now know that my well-bred reaction to feeling helpless is losing control and I now know why.  In addition, I’ve explored how anxiety, has gotten in the way of really being present in the courtroom, and in life.  At times, anxiety has been debilitating.

I told Carolynn to kick me if I started to lose my temper during the trial because I knew that the helpless feeling would come.  I knew that my own anxiety might get in the way, if I allowed it and  I knew that if it did, I wouldn’t be fully present with the jurors and would be unable to really hear them.  How does any of this apply to jury selection?  The panel is in front of us, and prosecutor is up doing what he was taught and it is looking ugly for us right now.


[1] Rogers, C. R. (1980) A Way of Being. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company

[2] Nolte, J. (2008) The Psychodrama Papers. Connecticut: Encounter Publications

[3] National Psychodrama Training Center, http://nationalpsychodramatrainingcenter.com/?page_id=13

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