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Action Methods Borrowed from Psychodrama Help Lawyers Win Impossible Cases

Sep 6th, 2016 Psychodrama

About 40 years ago a group of innovative lawyers began to experiment with new and innovative ways to bring their cases to life in the courtroom.  The leading lawyer in this effort was Gerry Spence.  Back in 1978 Spence joined with attorney John Ackerman, who was the first Dean of the National Criminal Defense College (NCDC), and John Johnson, a sociologist originally from Wyoming.[i] They soon began experimenting with ways to use psychodrama to teach trial lawyers.

According to Cole, “[E]arly experiments in these new training methods were primarily run through the NCDC.  A series of psychodrama programs were scheduled from 1978 until 1983 through the NCDC, using a psychodramatist named Don Clarkson. The psychodrama sessions were run as separate programs; they were not integrated into the NCDC summer training program. When Ackerman’s tenure at the college ended in 1983, the interest in using psychodrama began to wane.”

In 1994, the “cause” was picked up by Gerry Spence, who continued to experiment with the assimilation of psychodrama and trial skills at his newly formed Trial Lawyer’s College (TLC). Since this time, the TLC has grown in size and notoriety, and now has a track record of training some of the nation’s most successful trial lawyers over the past 20+ years.

Through the TLC lawyers from around the country have learned how to use various action methods borrowed from psychodrama to improve all aspects of their trial work.  This includes things like voir dire and jury selection, opening and closing statements, direct and cross-examination, and most centrally discovering and telling their client’s stories.

Cole has argued that good story telling is central to being a trial lawyer, so much so that they are essentially inseparable.  To be a good lawyer is to be a good story teller. The problem is that course work and current training that exists in law schools is essentially counter-productive.  This is one of the reasons that Spence’s idea of joining psychodrama action methods with trial law was so inspired. It helps lawyers set aside the way they’ve been taught to look at a case, and teaches lawyers to look at their cases through a far more vivid and multi-chromatic lens.

Lawyers interested in learning more about the union of psychodrama and trial law, and/or to receive psychodrama training, are encouraged to contact the Michigan Psychodrama Center for more information.

[i] Cole, Psychodrama and the Training of Trial Lawyers, 21 N. ILL. U. L. REV. 1 (2001)