Frequently Asked Questions
WHY PROFESSIONAL IMPROV ACTORS? WHY A MALE AND A FEMALE?
The improv actors are one of the critical keys to this unique learning experience. When lawyers play witnesses they never play it realistically. If the witness is not realistic, the training is fatally flawed. The training does not educate as it needs to do. In fact, it creates bad or worse habits. Professional actors, especially with improv experience, play roles for a living. Improv experience permits the actors to not follow a script, but react as the witness/character would react.
That makes sense, but there is a much deeper and significant gain. There is a dramatic increase in each lawyer participant’s skill, abilities, and confidence in the two day clinic. The improv actors can be quickly directed by the instructors during a performance or exercise. We always insist on a realistic presentation, but the range of emotions, effects, and personalities is amazing by these professionals.
A quick example:
A talented and skilled female lawyer was crossing a male actor with almost mechanical precision. She tended to take on scientific subjects. Her pre-lawyer training had been as a civil engineer. Literally in less than thirty seconds, and with the participant’s consent, a female actor was made the witness, and was directed to show confusion that lead to frustration, that lead to quiet tears. No wailing, just quiet tears. The lawyer tried multiple times to continue the cross. Finally she just stopped. She broke character and said: “I cannot do this.” We have all felt that way while in real court.
In less than five minutes the actor, the other actor, and two instructors discussed feelings with this lawyer participant while other participants made suggestions. It was agreed the lawyer would do another try after absorbing for an hour or so, while other lawyers preformed. She nailed it against the same actor, who played it in an even more challenging way. The actors were key to making that break thru happen.
Both male and female actors present challenges to a trial lawyer. But they are different challenges. Males and females see, hear, and experience trial differently. Not only are the actors’ appearance and performances different, but the trial lawyer’s reaction to them varies. It not only changes an important variable, but multiple variables. That multiplies the learning challenges and the learning experience.
HOW CAN I REACT MORE QUICKLY AND BE MORE SPONTANEOUS WHILE I AM ON CROSS?
First, there is no doubt that the skill to react quicker on cross and to be more spontaneous can be improved and strengthened. To be sure, some people have more talent than others in this skill set. But just like almost any other skill, trial skills can be enhanced and strengthened.
Next, the ability to listen to answers while on cross is the key to reacting. If you cannot hear it, you cannot react. Listening is not measured just by hearing the words spoken by the witness. An extremely important component to listening in the court room is hearing the tone of the words. Also involved is ‘listening’ to the body language of the witness. Actively and fully listening while on cross is a difficult skill set to acquire, but it can be improved upon, enhanced, and strengthened.
To listen means the cross-examiner must have structure and control. Without those two prerequisites, cross is an adrenaline driven, exhausting affair. The three rules provide the basis for control. The ways to control a difficult witness techniques enhance the three rules. Chapter techniques give further structure for the cross. They answer where am I? Where do I want to go? How am I going to get there?
Knowing those answers relax the cross-examiner so he/she can listen.
PERFORMING. HOW OFTEN AM I ON MY FEET CROSS-EXAMINING A DAY?
Every clinic is a little different, but each participant should be ready to perform at least 2 individual exercises per day. You will be helping to critique other class members multiple times a day. You will also participate in exercises with others. These exercises may be a group of 2 or as many as 8.
Part of the learning paradigm is helping others, observing others and then applying what others have done to your presentations and skills.
Part of the rich texture of the format of the clinic is time to absorb the techniques.
ANXIETY. CLINIC ENVIRONMENT. IS IT NATURAL TO BE ANXIOUS AS I SIGN UP FOR AND PREPARE FOR A CLINIC?
Being anxious is natural and healthy; natural and healthy because it is your body and mind reminding you that what we do is important, is demanding, and is not easy to do. I, Roger J. Dodd, am anxious, nervous, scared every time I do a cross-examination, whether it is in court on in a clinic. In the end, pressure, which causes anxiety, is self-imposed. It comes from within each of us. I cannot calculate how often clients, judges, and juries have been satisfied with my crosses when I was miserable with my cross.
Cross-examining is a lifelong work in progress. There are always three crosses for every opportunity to cross: The one that is planned. The one that is given. The one that we wish we had given.
The core philosophy of the clinic is that cross skills, as well as other trial skills are best learned in a positive, safe to take risks, and ‘we are all in this together’ sharing environment. Anxiety is natural, but the very first exercise dispels much of our anxiety, including mine. Part of becoming a better trial lawyer is developing means to handle anxiety better and quicker.
FLEXIBILITY AS A TRIAL LAWYER. HOW CAN I GET MORE FLEXIBLE IN THE COURTROOM?
The more cross-examinations you do, the more flexible you will become. We will select approximately twelve problems for each clinic. Then each participant will choose what problems to preform. There are certain group exercises we will have every participant join. There are others that you choose who will work with you. But every individual performance will be your choice. This is the time to experiment, to try, and to expand yourself. Each problem/exercise is drafted to concentrate on specific cross-examination skills. You get to concentrate on the skills you want to improve.
OPTIMAL CLASS SIZE. WHY IS 8 SO IMPORTANT?
Literally over decades of experimentation on the size of the class, we have become convinced eight is best for two full days of training. Any smaller, and there is not enough time to absorb, reflect, and observe others working on cross skills. Any larger and there is not enough time and repetitions to be at the podium, facing witnesses and cross-examining. There is learning not just by doing, but by observing others preform, by providing constructive critiques, by participating in group exercises.
WHY IS THERE SUCH A VARIETY OF PROBLEMS/EXERCISES?
Every person learns differently. Every person has different experiences. Each of the problems are intentionally designed to present different cross-examination challenges. To learn rapidly, each cross examiner must be challenged in new, unfamiliar ways. The problems/exercises do that. Trial lawyers generally have a shorter attention span than the average person. To keep each participant’s attention, the group energy high, and the fun in these two days, a variety of problems/exercises must be available. New challenges. Different challenges. Challenges that teach rapidly.
SHARING AND TEAM BUILDING
Trial work has changed. A generation ago, it was the rare trial that had more than one lawyer per side who played a substantial role. Now it is the rare trial that has just one lawyer per side who plays a substantial role. Trial lawyers need to develop team building skill sets for trial.
Just as importantly, trial lawyers learn better in groups than individually. When we can see someone else perform a skill that we are trying to learn, we learn from watching. It gives us time to adsorb the skill from a different perspective and to adapt it to our own style.
WHY ARE THERE 2 INSTRUCTORS FOR 8 PARTICIPANTS?
Each trial lawyer views, hears and feels trials and cross-examinations differently. Those differences must be recognized and embraced. We need to build our skills to be able to acknowledge differences and be trained to deal with those differences. Each instructor will stress different points of instruction. Those points of emphasis are linked to the differences in the instructors.
GROUP, PAIRS/PARTNER, AND INDIVIDUAL EXERCISES. WHY?
Each of the exercises teach specific cross-examination skills. When participants are having difficulties, or it is predicted that they will, with certain cross techniques, certain exercises, and the use of a variety of partnerships can quickly create breakthroughs. Not only do they teach, and teach quickly, they are fun to do.
WHY ARE THERE GET-TOGETHERS?
It is not required. But it gives us all: participants, instructors, actors and significant others, a chance to relax, chat, share stories, and be trial lawyers together. Learning and retention happens. And it is fun.
About a year into the clinics, multiple participants suggested and asked for a list serve. We are not strong computer people, but if there are ways to communicate better then we are all for that. The list serve is voluntary. It will only be used for attendees and faculty.
WHAT ELSE CAN I EXPECT?
At your request we will provide limited edition logo embroidered polo shirts. If you want to buy them. We provide them for our instructors, and will permit you to buy them at the price it costs us. From time to time, we also have other logo products as well.
Your attendance and participation is important not only to you, but also to the other participants of the Clinic. Our experience has shown that eight participants is optimum for learning. The Clinic is not a CLE where you will be one of 400 attendees and your absence does not matter to the presentation. Instead, when someone is unable to participate, it effects the balance and flow of the class. Other participants do not get the insight of observing and receiving critique, suggestions and questions from all participants.
Once a participant is registered with payment our policy is twofold: (1) It will be the sole responsibility of the participant to fill the seat, and thus mitigate the registration fee. There will be no refunds. If possible the seat will be filled and any registration fee collected from the alternate participant will be refunded to the cancelling party less an administration fee of $250. (2) Despite the fact that it is the sole responsibility of the cancelling participant to fill the seat, we will do all we can to assist you in finding a replacement. Normally we have a waiting list, but the closer in time to the Clinic, the harder it is to fill an empty seat.