Avatars, Acting and Imagination: Bringing New Techniques into the Legal Classroom
33 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2020
Date Written: December 31, 2018
This project is part of an ongoing effort to build the “360° lawyer,” a concept that I came up with to capture related strands of thought I have had while teaching students in my first-year legal writing classroom. “360°,” or “whole,” or “all the way around.” These felt like the right ways to describe someone who could see legal issues from multiple perspectives, but also had the quality to sustain oneself in the practice of law – the “w-holistic” lawyer.
The first endeavor was to think about ways that I could teach or inspire students at the particular moment in the spring semester where they had written their appellate briefs and were just about to present their oral arguments – in other words, in the liminal space between what students know and what they do not (yet) know.
Along with the traditional “moot-courtisms” and instructions, such as to make eye contact, and not to be rude or disrespectful to the judges or opposing counsel, I decided to try something new this year. I set aside one extra class period, after I had already taught my normal oral advocacy classes, in which I pulled together six tips to help my students navigate this space. I employed the help of one of my neighbors, a Shakespearean- trained actor who was currently, in her words, “playing a lawyer on t.v.” Together, she and I brought these tips to life for the students, and met them right in the space that they occupied that week. This article describes the concepts I created for that class, as well as other theater-based techniques that can be helpful for students to transition into oral advocates, and ultimately, into holistic lawyers.
In Part II of this article, I examine the scope of the existing legal academic research on theater techniques in the law, including those in the courtroom as well as the classroom. Although some of the pieces connect acting and lawyering, they leave room to explore the use of theater theory and application in the law classroom – including the legal writing classroom – in a deep and impactful way. Further, even though the literature on oral advocacy is richly developed, it also leaves openings to inspire students while teaching them to be advocates. I discuss why theater techniques can help students feel more prepared for the oral argument process, including addressing concerns about whether such techniques can bring through an authentic perspective.
In Part III, I describe the six techniques, some from my own experience, and others from formalized theater training, which I brought to my spring persuasive writing and oral advocacy course, and how we presented them to the students. The six tips are to: 1) find an “avatar,” which is the core concept of this paper, and one I developed to help students feel more steady when they first think about presenting themselves; 2) be prepared, which requires them to review the material facts and law just as an actor would review a script; 3) know the “heart” of the story, which is common in both a student’s theory of the case and an actor’s understanding of her character’s motivations; 4) think in a 360° way, in which I ask students to “recognize the round,” and think from the other side’s perspective, just as actors are taught to think about other character’s motivations; 5) understand the power of projection (the voice); and, finally, 6) understand the power of body language (the stance).
Finally, I conclude with my thoughts on the class and the process, and discuss ways in which these techniques – unbundled or bundled—might be useful in other law teaching moments.
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