Â Professional Development for Attorneys: A Call for Performance Training Helene M. Weiss Ithaca College, Roy H. Park School of Communications
Abstract Every day opposing attorneys argue facts and evidence in court in order to help resolve issues of the law. Besides the competency of the argument, a lawyer’s body language and performance skills will have a significant impact on the way jurors and judges make their decisions. In law schools and professional development programs in firms, little emphasis is placed on performance and presentation ability—communication skills necessary to succeed in court. Recent research reveals that most current programs are inadequate. In order to effectively train attorneys law schools and firms need to develop more performance courses and programs. Keywords • Attorney: a person, typically a lawyer, appointed to act for another in business or legal matters (Oxford, 2012). • Arbitrator: an independent person or body officially appointed to settle a dispute (Oxford, 2012). • Body language: the process of communicating nonverbally through conscious or unconscious gestures and movements (Oxford, 2012). • Litigation: the process of taking legal action (Oxford, 2012). • Professional Development: the advancement of skills or expertise to succeed in a particular profession, especially through continued education (Dictionary, 2012). • Reform: make changes in something (typically a social, political or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it (Oxford, 2012). Research Methods In order to conduct research regarding professional development for attorneys, there were several methods used. First, questionnaires were sent to law students, lawyers and judges. Four respondents gave written answers to the questions, while one respondent was able to sit down for a personal interview. In addition to these questionnaires, a set of separate questions was sent to current Ithaca College students who are either enrolled in the course “Courtrooms and Communication” or are a member of the Mock Trial team. A total of five participants responded to the second survey. Besides the studies conducted, there was further research needed. I collected data from several renowned institutions and journals for attorneys. The Find Law Institute provides recent statistics concerning employment for lawyers and was able to provide data on the topic of professional development and proved to be a valuable source. The Association for Legal Career Professionals and Law People were both beneficial resources for developing this study. Through interviews, questionnaires, law journals, professional development sites, legal statistics and online resources, I was able to compile all of the necessary research. All research has been integrated into this paper by using the ethical guidelines for professional writing. Introduction Lawyers are expected to represent other parties in court. Arbitrators argue for their clients in front of a panel of judges. Whether it’s a person, a group of people or a company, attorneys must speak on behalf of their client in order to win a case. An immense amount of time and research goes into preparing a case. Lawyers must know the law in and out—and be able to apply it to the situation at hand. But what most trial attorneys aren’t ready for when they step into the courtroom is how to perform. In law school, students are trained on how to research
and interpret the law. Law schools prefer to leave the performance training up to firms. This leaves many undergraduates asking: are current professional development and law school programs providing adequate preparation for trial attorneys? Recent studies released by The Foundation for Law and Research found that firms aren’t doing enough to prepare lawyers for the courtroom (Chow, 2012). Additionally, questionnaires and interviews conducted for this analysis revealed that law schools and firms are failing to provide adequate performance training. Body language, communication technique and performance ability are essential skills in becoming a trial lawyer. Yet law schools and firms offer little assistance when it comes to performance training. Because performance ability is a crucial skill for becoming a trial lawyer, law schools and law firms should create more performance-based courses in professional development. The duration of this paper will examine the importance of communication techniques and the issues with lawyer professional development programs. Additional research, studies and interviews conducted will further support the conclusions and recommendations offered in this analysis. Analyzing Communication in the Courtroom Law schools’ focus on researching empirical data and learning how to analyze and brief cases leave little room in the curriculum for performance courses. Yet law students and lawyers who participated in this study on courtroom communication all agreed: body language and performance skills play a huge role in how a trial can turn out. Professionals in the field have commented on the effects that body language can have to an audience’s perception: “All of our nonverbal behaviors—the gestures we make, the way we sit, how fast or how loud we talk, how close we stand, how much eye contact we make—send strong messages. These messages don’t stop when you stop speaking either. Even when you’re silent, you’re still communicating nonverbally” (Segal, 2012). Displaying proper body language such as posture, eye contact, hand gestures and tone of speech affect the process of trying a case. The best attorneys are the best actors. They know how to get the attention of a jury by telling a captivating story. They use dramatic pauses, purpose in their tone, and can raise emotions within jurors (Whelan, 2011). To understand why performance is so crucial for an attorney’s success, we must first become familiar with the various roles and situations a lawyer must handle throughout the proceedings, and how attorneys’ perceived body language could impact a case. In a trial a lawyer will be expected to communicate during several processes. The process of communication plays a key role in a litigator’s profession. Communication methods can vary depending on who is the sender, receiver, what kind of noise is occurring, and what the message entails. Whether it is in the forum of arbitration or a jury trial, sending a clear message to your listener is essential in winning a case. Litigators must change their tone, method and overall strategy depending on what type of environment they are arguing in. The audience must be able to understand an attorney’s message and agree with how they paint the case at hand. Jurors play a critical role in the courtroom setting. Besides the judge, the jury is the main audience or receiver of a lawyer’s message throughout the trial. In order to understand how lawyers must behave, it’s important to understand how a jury works. In a jury trial the audience consists of one dozen random citizens who are serving a duty. Jury members are not paid for their time. They are required to serve their duty as a juror, which means they will be missing work and prior commitments to come to court. This can lead to jurors being upset and uninterested before the case has even begun. Since jurors may be indifferent toward the case at
hand, it’s important for attorneys to act welcoming and convey a friendly persona so the jurors will form a positive first impression. A jury might be turned off if an attorney acts rude, snobbish, arrogant or incompetent during the proceedings. If jurors believe an attorney is truthful, likeable and competent, they will be more likely to listen to the statements and take into consideration the arguments an attorney has presented (Whelan, 2011). This is a key reason why competent performance skills in the courtroom are essential. Additionally, attorneys must remember that jurors do not know anything about the case at hand before entering court, which can make the process even more confusing. Jurors are coming into the courtroom blindly, hearing a case for the first time. Lawyers cannot assume that jurors will reflect upon evidence that they have attempted to highlight. Instead, attorneys must use hand gestures and fluctuations in voice tone to draw attention to certain parts of the case. The messages being relayed to jurors must be clear and concise in order to ensure they are following an attorney’s argument. Lawyers must tailor their various performances until fluidity is reached. Jurors do not typically have access to writing notes during trial. Jurors are normal citizens and do not have the capacity to recall everything that comes out in court. This means that lawyers must be diligent about relaying all of the most critical information in a memorable way for jurors. All of the information presented to them at the trial will be in the form of testimony, questioning, evidence and statements by counsel. It’s vital that attorneys paint the jurors a picture in a light favorable to their side of the case. Again, the more simple and clear the message is, the better the jury will understand it. Communication specialist Jeanne Segal, PhD, agrees, “When your nonverbal signals match up with the words you’re saying, they increase trust, clarity, and rapport. When they don’t, they generate tension, mistrust, and confusion” (Segal, 2012). Using the right kinds of body language will improve jurors’ trust in an attorney, and in turn believe the attorney’s side of the case. If a juror believes a lawyer is nervous, unprepared or lying, they may form an unfavorable opinion about that lawyer. Although arbitrators are presenting their case in chief to a judge instead of a jury, their body language and performance during arbitrations will certainly affect a judge’s opinion and final verdict. Judges are more likely to rule in favor of an attorney that shows respect and displays professionalism than an arrogant or inexperienced lawyer (Whelan, 2011). Although arbitrators and attorneys have different roles, they’re both lawyers who need to present themselves in front of an audience and be skilled at performing under pressure. Arbitrators have a different type of audience than in jury trials. An audience for arbitration may be one arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators. Arbitrators are experienced judges or lawyers that have been certified to arbitrate. They have extensive knowledge of the law, the litigation processes and legal jargon. This means that attorneys can use legal terminology without isolating an arbitrator. Arbitrators understand the legal process and should be treated as judges. This gives attorneys an opportunity to go into detail and make more complex legal arguments because the arbitrators will be able to comprehend the terms and rules. Unlike jurors, arbitrators are paid for their time and their decisions in arbitration will possibly effect their future employment. In this case, important Administrative Law Judges (or ALJs) will be taking note of any standout or remarkable negotiator. An impressive performance during arbitration could make or break an attorney’s career (Whelan, 2011). An attorney must also vary their strategies during opening statements, direct examination, cross-examination and closing when it comes to jury trials and arbitrations. In an opening statement, an attorney is given the first chance to present their case to the jury. First impressions are everything—and the jury will be judging an attorney first on how they present themselves.
The jury will have never heard any of the facts before, so this is the lawyer’s chance to paint a picture for the jury in a way they can understand. The jury can loose interest fact, so attorneys should draw juror’s attention in as soon as they start by having a good opening gambit. An attorney will tell a story from their client’s perspective so that it makes their client the victim. Right off the bat, Lawyers want the jury to feel sympathy for their client. Gaining the attention of a crowd and arousing a particular feeling is a skill—one that must be learned and perfected for lawyers to sway their jury’s emotions Of course, body language and positioning is also a key part of this performance. Physical movement is important during opening statements. Making eye contact with jurors is a good way to connect with them, but staring might scare them. Moving around slowly and having a deliberate pace is also a good strategy, whereas pacing around fast and fidgeting will distract a jury. It’s important for lawyer’s to never face their back to a jury, because they might feel offended. Hand movements are useful but should be practiced beforehand in case it looks awkward or distracting. Having a perfect strategic positioning is essential to drawing in a juror’s attention. All of these small aspects of positioning and awareness in the court may seem trivial, but they have a great impact on a juror’s state of mind (Whelan, 2011). Direct examination is the next step in the litigation process. This is the stage where an attorney puts a witness for their side of the case on the stand and asks them questions. The attorney and witness have already talked before the trial and should have a roadmap of where the direct examination is going. For both jury trials and litigation it is important for a lawyer to have a good rapport with your witness and appear competent. An attorney should always be asking open-ended questions. For this stage of the trial, the jury should be paying the most attention to the witness’s story. Attorneys should ask questions that lead to the witnesses explaining a series or events, a conversation, or a situation surrounding the case. Remaining likeable and staying in character, as a professional is key for a clear direct examination. During this process, opposing counsel may object to the line of questioning. Attorneys should know the rules of evidence and procedure in and out so they can defend themselves when objections arise. A judge will make a ruling and then the lawyer will go back to questioning. The jury may be confused after lawyers have been arguing over an objection. It is important that if the objection was overruled, the attorney gets the chance to re-ask the question so the jury can remember what was going on before the objection battle. Arbitrators on the other hand will probably make quicker rulings and attorneys will have less “objection battles” since there is no jury to impress (Whelan, 2011). Arbitration directs may also be more concise since all arbitrators will know relevant facts and info. Overall, during objections lawyers must stay calm. A jury will be displeased if a lawyer seems too aggressive, while arbitrators may become impatient with hostile behavior as well. When cross examining a witness, a lawyer wants to trap them into a corner and get them to admit to something that will negatively reflect their side of the case. This is one of the toughest skills to acquire and involves a lot of performance practice. In a recent interview, a seasoned lawyer, arbitrator and professor commented, “Cross-examination is by far the hardest part of a trial. It takes years to learn how to use the right tone and demeanor”. Being assertive is necessary, but it’s important that while controlling a witness lawyers aren’t too hostile or abusive because this will incite objections from opposing counsel. It may even lead a jury to like the lawyer less. Sometimes a witness can be sensitive and jury will be sympathetic towards them. In this case, it is especially important to watch the jury’s reaction to the line of questions to decide if you are being too abrasive. Jurors will not think favorably of a lawyer who is being cruel to a
witness that they like. Arbitration Judges on the other hand will understand that lawyers have to be firm when a witness is carrying on with a narrative, so they may not judge the lawyer’s performance as harshly as a jury might if the lawyer is being too hostile on cross. During the entire cross-examination process it is important for lawyers to stay aware of the power of their presence. The last part of the communication is the closing arguments. This is the last chance for the jury to hear an attorney’s case before they make their final decision. Besides opening statements, it is the only other opportunity that a lawyer has to stand before the jury and address them directly. The closing argument should point out all of the flaws in the other side’s case. Attorneys should mention the witnesses that the other side put on and remind jurors how the witness was discredited on the stand. It is crucial for the attorney to perform without a script, to move around the room with ease, and to make their closing argument sell the entire case. An attorney who makes an impressive closing can perform their argument effortlessly, and has most likely spent hours practicing and rehearsing their performance. “For trials I would spend over thirty hours rehearsing, trying make my closing perfect. It’s your last opportunity to appeal to the jury and the last chance to get them on your side” stated an experience lawyer during a recent interview conducted for this study. When performing in the courtroom attorneys must stay aware of their body language at all times to make sure they’re sending a positive message to jurors. If lawyers are communicating coherent facts verbally, but are relaying negative body language, the jury might not even be listening. When an audience is faced with mixed signals, the listener must choose whether to believe one’s verbal or nonverbal message. Studies have shown that in most cases the audience will choose to believe a communicator’s nonverbal message (Segal, 2012). The importance of such nonverbal communication would lead one to believe that public communication and performance skills are essential for a trial attorney’s career. To further investigate how law schools and firms incorporate performance training into their professional development programs, several select groups were interviewed. Questionnaires and Interviews The first step in my methods of research was to collect data from people who had first hand experience with this issue: law students, lawyers and judges. In total, there were five respondents ranging from a law student, to a new lawyer, to a seasoned judge. The following list of questions was included in the questionnaire sent out to that audience. Participant’s answers are listed in the section below. 1. How big of a role do you believe body language and communication technique play in courtroom effectiveness? 2. How much does an attorney’s body language affect the outcome of a trial? 3. How much training did you spend on public presentation before trials? 4. How did you receive your training? 5. What kind of acting/performance courses did your law school offer, if any? 6. Did your firms offer any professional development programs, if so what kinds? 7. Did your firms aid you in developing communication strategies for the court? 8. Did your firms recommend you improving upon your performance? 9. Did you feel you received adequate training for communication in the courtroom? 10. Would you recommend firms or schools implementing more communication courses?
Respondent 1: Law School Student Although respondent 1 does not have formal attorney training, she participated in mock trial for two years and has some experience in the courtroom. In response to question 1, the respondent said that body language is sometimes more important to the listener than what the speaker is actually saying. The way a person stands, walks and uses their hands can be indicative of their feelings towards a particular subject, stated the respondent. She added that listeners will pick up on nervous habits or confident gestures, and it makes them more or less likely to believe what the speaker is saying. Respondent 1 believes that in the courtroom, using effective gestures and body language is critical because the speaker is trying to display himself as being honest and truthful. When asked how much body language can affect a trial’s outcome, respondent 1 said that body language has the ability to make or break a trial. She said that a lawyer who speaks confidently of his client’s innocence without pacing or fumbling over his words is more likely to be believed than a lawyer who won’t make eye contact with anyone in the jury and continually fumbles with the buttons of his jacket. The respondent could not answer questions 3, 4, 6, 7 or 8. The respondent stated that her law school offers performance courses such as Communication Skills for Lawyers, Advanced Trial Practice and Interviewing and Counseling. When asked if she would recommend additional performance courses, respondent 1 answered yes. She said that most law schools are slowly starting to focus on communication skills, but that there is still a much heavier focus on learning the material that will be on the bar exam and leaving the communication and trial practice up to the firms. Respondent 1 had a specific recommendation for law schools. She stated that by making communication classes in criminal and civil law mandatory, it would allow students to take a class that would prepare them for the real world, offering trial practice in addition to procedure. Respondent 1 added that implementing this at a firm is more likely to be costly and unfeasible with lawyer’s caseloads—and that it is up to law schools to start offering performance courses. Respondent 2: Lawyer and Professor Respondent 2 works on less cases now and focuses on teaching, but used to go to several trials a year when her career was at its peak. Respondent 2 stated that to her knowledge, studies have shown that body language and communication are essential components to courtroom effectiveness. For the second question, the respondent said it is difficult to measure, but she would assume that body language is a very important component to winning a trial. Respondent 2 received no training before trials, spent no time practicing before performances, and did not take performance courses in law school. Her law school offered no performance courses. Respondent 2 was not offered ay professional development programs in her firm, was not aided in developing strategies for the court, and received no feedback on her performances. Respondent 2 did not feel prepared for the courtroom, and did not feel as though she received adequate training at all. In response to the last question, respondent 2 believes more communication oriented classes should be offered and stated that law schools should require at least one semester course on presentation skills. Respondent 3: Trial Lawyer Respondent 3 is a recent law school graduate and has been a bar-certified lawyer for a few years. She believed that body language plays a major role because if one is not able to connect with a jury—they will go nowhere. Respondent 3 said that in some cases, the outcome is clear-cut. However, if there are major questions of fact and credibility of a witness, an
attorney’s body language and communication technique can really sway the jury one way or another. Respondent 3 made sure that she was always prepared for trials, commenting that she wore her best suits, and would put on more makeup than usual because first impressions are everything, and being likable is important. She received her performance training from doing mock trials, doing internships, and watching other lawyers. Respondent 3 said that her law school offered basic communication classes that were not required. She commented that her firm allowed her to sit in on senior attorneys trials, and that her observations made there was one of the best learning experiences. Although her firm did not offer any “official” courses, she would talk to other lawyers in her firm and steal bits and pieces of everyone’s technique until she formed her own. Respondent 3’s firm offered to pay for continuing legal education classes of her choosing. Respondent 3 took this opportunity, and stated that every class she chose focused on trial technique. From all of the respondent’s experience in mock trials and her firm’s assistance, she felt overall prepared when she stepped into the courtroom. However, she did have some recommendations. Respondent 3 said that most law institutions do not require students to take communication type classes and that more could be done. She stated that personally, her law school did an excellent job of preparing her. But, she would suggest that mock trial technique classes should be a requirement to graduate. Her reasoning for this was that most attorneys are afraid of public speaking and don’t know how to conduct themselves in a courtroom. As for firms, Respondent 3 believes that firms should offer lawyers the opportunity to sit in on cases. Additionally, she thinks that firms should pay for continuing legal education classes for their associates so their associates can engage and learn about the areas of law that most interest them. Respondent 4: New Lawyer Respondent 4 is a new lawyer who hasn’t yet had much experience in the court. She said that although she hasn’t tried a case yet, she believed body language plays a large role in how effective attorneys are achieving a desired result—whether in court, negotiating with other attorneys, or meeting with clients. She believed that attorney’s body language could have a huge impact on the outcome of a trial, especially in the instance of jury trials. Respondent 4 commented that it is hard to believe what an attorney is saying if the attorney is not confident in what they are saying. Respondent 4 received some training from a mock trial class that she took in law school, but she commented that if she were to take a case to trial now she would definitely need some more assistance and training. Respondent 4 said that at her law school, every student was required to take at least one mock trial class. Her school also offered different internship programs. She believed these internship opportunities are helpful to students in terms of getting a hands-on feeling of a law firm experience. All the firms she has worked for did not offer any specific professional development programs. Respondent 4 would recommend firms and law schools implementing more communication courses. She believes that schools need to offer more practical courses like mock trial. She reasons that classes like this give students the opportunity to go through an entire trial from start to finish—as opposed to just reading the process and procedure for a trial. Respondent 5: Professor, Experienced Lawyer, Arbitrator, Judge Respondent 5 was the most experienced member of the study and was able to offer a global perspective to the study. Respondent 5 was able to sit down for a personal interview and provided a significant amount of valuable information. Respondent 5 believes that body language plays a huge role in the effectiveness of an attorney. He stated that if you don’t
believe in your case, the decision makers aren’t going to believe in it either. It’s usually easy to tell by looking at someone’s body language if they believe in what they’re doing. Respondent 5 believes that body language can greatly affect the outcome of a trial. He told a story about a lawyer who was asking questions in court to a witness, and the witness gave an unfavorable response. Although the jury wasn’t paying very much attention, the lawyer was displeased with the witness’s answer and it was apparent to the court through his body language. The lawyer buried his face in his hands and groaned. Respondent 5 said the witness’s response may have been harmful, but the attorney’s negative body language reaction to the response was what really got the attention of the jurors. Respondent 5 noted that the lawyer should have kept a poker faced and moved on with his line of questioning. If he had done so, the jury may not have even noticed the witness’s slip up. Respondent 5 used this of an example of how a lawyer’s body language can be even more significant in a case than the testimony elicited from witnesses. At first, respondent 5 did not practice performing early in his career. He started to work on his performing skills when his firm required it. Once he started acquiring larger cases, he would practice for weeks on his statements and arguments. He noted that lawyers should look the jurors in the eye to engage them, and that a lot of jurors respond positively if they believe you are interested in them. As an undergraduate, respondent 5 took Improv Theater. He stated that the course helped him a lot with nerves and he would recommend this sort of course highly for students interested in law. He only took one course in technique during law school, because he wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to be a trial lawyer. However, respondent 5 stated that this course had a big impact on his understanding of courtroom procedures. His law school offered minimal courses in performance training. Respondent 5 worked for a firm that had an associate training program. They would meet monthly for an hour and discuss law updates, do skills training and teach lawyers how to give depositions. His firms helped aid him by giving specific guidelines and instructions. Although he thought this relaying of verbal information was helpful, when respondent 5 found himself trying his first case—he was not as prepared as he thought. His performance skills were not adequate and he had to learn how to improve by trial and error. He stated that his firm did not explain to him many of the basic things that are required for “performing” well in court, such as laying a foundation for testimony, impeaching a witness, or bringing a document into court as evidence. Respondent 5 stated that he wished he had more hands-on training from the start. The law firms that respondent 5 worked for gave formal performance reviews, but they did not address communication skills, writing ability, professionalism or performance. He said that although his colleagues did not aid him in developing performance skills, he wished they had given him more opportunities to watch and learn. He wanted to watch more cases and get a feeling for the lawyers’ style and tactics, but was not able to. Overall, respondent 5 said that he did not feel he received adequate training for communicating properly in the courtroom. Respondent 5 had very strong opinions when it came to making recommendations or improving upon professional development for attorneys. He would recommend firms and schools implementing more communication classes so people can get the experience before they actually matter to a real client. He stated that some lawyers do not realize this until they are struggling in court—and their clients are suffering. Respondent 5 said that there is currently a lot of “pushback” from the doctrinal faculty who teach subject matter courses in law school. He stated that law schools have typically held the view that they are not a “training ground” for lawyers, and instead should focus on academic discipline. He explained that law schools wish to
concentrate on big issues—policy and societal issues. However, respondent 5 firmly believed that performance training should be considered part of a law student’s necessary training. Respondent 5 said that law schools should consider offering more performance courses, and should even require at least one course for graduation. Additionally, respondent 5 stressed that pre law students should engage in as much experience in performance courses or mock trial if they are available to them. He believes that programs such as mock trial can provide the most valuable hands-on learning for future trial attorneys. Respondent 5 stated the students he currently works with on mock trial teams (undergraduates) are more professional and prepared to take on the courtroom environment than most lawyers are during their first years of being an associate for a firm. Respondent 5 stressed that the value of performance courses and mock trial experience will give potential trial lawyers a huge advantage over their competition in the future. Questionnaire for Undergraduates In order to investigate the affects that performance courses and mock trial may have on undergraduates, the following set of brief questions were sent to students who are currently enrolled in a performance training class offered by Ithaca College, “Courtrooms and Communication” or are members of the Ithaca College Competitive Mock Trial Team. In total, five students participated in this study. 1) Do you feel your performance abilities have improved since doing mock trial/courtrooms? 2) Do you think you have a fuller understanding of how the trial process works after doing mock trial/courtrooms? 3) List any other reactions, surprises, thoughts, suggestions or statements on the mock trial experience and its impact on your education. Respondent A: First year mock trial member, enrolled in Courtrooms Course The first respondent believed that her performance has improved by participating in mock trial. She feels as though she has gained more confidence when performing her direct and crossexaminations. Respondent A acknowledged that she has a lot of improving to do, but that she had definitely noticed a significant improvement in her opening statements. She said that she no longer moves around nervously during performances because of her training at mock trial. Respondent A said that she began to notice how fast her speech was after receiving a critique in courtrooms class. She noticed that her fast paced speaking can have an effect on the message she is sending to the jury, and that mock trial has helped her learn how to slow down when speaking. Although respondent A doesn’t yet feel she has a full understanding of courtroom procedure, she notes that it can only be accomplished by time. She commented that she is definitely more comfortable now that she knows the rules and regulations in the courtroom. Respondent A said that she is learning so much information through taking Courtrooms and participating in mock trial. She said that she knows additional experience will help her learn more about the rules of evidence. Respondent A said that Mock Trial has given her more confidence because it makes her feel important—for just a few minutes, people have to listen to what she has to say, and this is empowering. Mock trial has made her think on her feet and come up with intellectual responses at the spur of the moment. She commented that mock trial makes you become more witty and clever.
Respondent B: First year mock trial member, not enrolled in Courtrooms Course Respondent B said that his performance skills have improved tremendously. He commented that by playing a witness his range of acting has widened dramatically. As a character witness, one learns to launch into alternative personalities while conforming to a set of pre-determined talking points. He noted that as an expert witness he has learned to deal with cross-examination questioning where attorneys will attempt to twist one’s statement. This has helped him learn how to think on his feet. Additionally, his experience as a witness has helped him develop his attorney skills even further. As an attorney in mock trials, he has learned to transition from pre-written speeches to a more extemporaneous speaking style. Respondent B also said that mock trial has increased his knowledge of courtroom procedure. Although he is a legal major and has spent hundreds of hours looking over court opinions and researching briefs, his classes haven’t offered him the opportunity to perform oral arguments. Now that he is a member of mock trial, he feels that he understands the structure of a courtroom argument better. He believes that Mock Trial can teach students things that can’t be learned in the classroom. Respondent B believes that the benefits through the experience of doing mock trial are not fully realized until we approach law school and realize that our knowledge has carried over. He stated that he expects to be much more prepared when it comes to memorizing the rules of evidence than his colleagues in law school will be. Respondent C: Second year mock trial member, previously enrolled in Courtrooms Course Respondent C said that her performance abilities have improved substantially from the course and from mock trial. Before mock trial and Courtrooms, she had never done anything more than a short class speech on a presentation. Now, she is able to memorize opening statements and closing arguments with ease. Respondent C said that performing in class gave her the ability to think on her feet while presenting herself. She also learned the importance of composure in the courtroom and how to keep calm under pressure. When asked if she had a better understanding of courtroom procedure, respondent C said that she one hundred percent had a better understanding of how a trial works. She believes that she has learned a broad range of skills—from the small aspects like appearance and setting, to the necessary language, strategies and logistic procedures of the courtroom. Respondent C stated that mock trial and Courtrooms have been incredible tools in helping her improve her character. She commented that both activities proved to be fun and have also allowed her to grow personally and intellectually into a better person. Respondent D: First year mock trial member, enrolled in Courtrooms Course Respondent D commented that her performance abilities have definitely improved since she joined the mock trial team. She stated that learning about different concepts, and then actually putting them into use are two very different things. Through her experience on the team, she realized that the application of the law in the courtroom setting is more difficult than it seems. Respondent D said that mock trial allows you to be put in a situation where you either know what to do—or you don’t. If you don’t know what to do, it can prove fatal for your trial, she adds. She also commented that observing the objections other make and watching her fellow colleagues compete in mock trials has helped her form her own style when it comes to performing in the court. Respondent D feels as though she has a much better understanding of the trial process. She started the year with no knowledge on courtroom proceedings, and now feels confident competing in trials. Respondent D noted that she now knows everything from where to stand in the court, to how to argue an objection when placed on the spot.
Respondent E: First year mock trial member, enrolled in Courtrooms Course Respondent E stated that her performance abilities have definitely improved from both Courtrooms and Communication and from her participation on the mock trial team. She was able to learn the “basics” in the course, whereas she was able to apply them in her performances for mock trial. Respondent E said that she loved that mock trial gives her the chance to apply what she has learned in class, and that every single trial teaches her something different about objections, rules of evidence and performing. Respondent E also noted that performing so frequently, between these two sources, she feels very confident in her own knowledge and very comfortable standing up and speaking her opinion. She says that she doesn’t second-guess herself anymore—a skill she believed to be very hard to develop. She also believes this skill is an important aspect to performing effectively in the courtroom. Overall, respondent E feels as though she has learned all of the logistics of how the court works from the Courtrooms and Communication class. She also noted that being able to apply her knowledge and perform in mock trial has given her a fuller understanding of courtroom procedure. Respondent E stated that most of all, she feels mock trial has give her a confidence boost that no other program has been able to offer. She feels more confident when speaking, and is developing into a competitive team player because of her passion for mock trial. Respondent E said that by participating in mock trials she has solidified her interest in law and her chosen career path. Research and Findings When conducting research, it was important to find sources that revealed the nature of current professional development programs for attorneys, these programs’ affect on an attorney’s performance abilities, and attorneys opinions on these programs overall effectiveness. Find Law is an organization for legal professionals that provides information about current professional development programs for attorneys. In addition, Find Law has current legal news, job and career openings, public cases and codes, practice management, and many other valuable resources for lawyers. The Find Law website provides confidential, individual advice, coaching and guidance in person and over the telephone to lawyers who are considering moving out of their current position (Find, 2012). The Find Law center offers a professional development program for lawyers who feel as though their needs aren’t being met. The Find Law Professional Development Center states “the dissatisfaction of so many lawyers with their careers has dramatized the need to focus on a process, which enables them, by seeking positions consistent with their personal values and professional goals, to achieve professional satisfaction” (Find, 2012). The institute has experienced a number of attorneys who are reaching out to them for help because their current professional development programs are not adequate—or even nonexistent. Find Law also provides recent studies relevant to the legal field. One study conducted by the West Legal Education Center and the NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education asked associates and law firms administrators about professional development programs at their firms. The study’s findings show there is reason for attorneys to be concerned when it comes to law firm professional development—managers are turning to electronic training methods, while attorneys prefer in-person and hands-on training styles. The study found that law firms cited “business development training” as one of their highest priorities for the future—and 95% of lawyers ranked mentoring and on-the-job training as one of their highest priorities for the future. Yet, a staggering amount of associates, 38% felt that their law firms’
professional development program fell below their expectations (Chow, 2012). Even more surprising may be that nearly half, 48% of associates say their firms do not offer any law practice management programs at all (Chow, 2012). Additionally, there has been a recent trend in attorneys leaving their firms because they feel unsatisfied with their firms programs. These statistics mean that less than 15% of current associate lawyers at firms feel as though their professional development program is adequate—a scary number for most law students to consider (Chow, 2012). Law People is an organization dedicated to “Better law practice through better people management.” Law People provided information stating that most of the professional development programs for lawyers exists in the large firms (Muir, 2007). Since these programs can be so hard to maintain, only the most well endowed firms typically house performance programs for professional development. Attorneys who entering the workforce without any performance training or mock trial experience will be out of luck when it comes to professional development programs in their firms. Lawyers might find more help when reaching out to organizations like Find Law that offer such professional development programs for unsatisfied associates. The firms that can provide the most top-notch professional development training are large ones, like Stoel Rivers LLP. Stoel River boasts a firm with nearly 400 attorneys operating out of 11 offices in seven states (Attorneys, 2012). With a clientele base as widespread as Stoel River’s, it’s easy to see how a firm this massive could afford such state of the art professional development programs. Stoel River states on their site that new and experienced lawyers require strong professional development support if they wish to keep up with the rapidly changing legal profession. Large firms with the capacity to aid their professionals are realizing that investing in their employees is one of the best ways to keep them satisfied: “Our professional development staff provides training, orientation and mentoring initiatives to help you navigate successfully. It’s easy when you hire the best legal talent in the country, but our staff is committed to refreshing programs and services that ensure we retain the best, too. Our professional development approach provides you with an educational toolbox to help you succeed in your legal career” (Attorneys, 2012). Lawyers who attain high LSAT scores, attend the best institutions, and ace the bar exam will easily find themselves in an associate position at a prestigious firm such as Stoel River. But most lawyers won’t be so lucky. Most lawyers aren’t getting the professional developing training they need. And most lawyers are entering the courtroom with the realization that they are not prepared. Conclusion For trial lawyers, body language is essential. Through research and the interviews conducted, it’s clear that body language can play a major role in an attorney’s effectiveness and possibly the outcome of a whole case. If the jury is interested in a lawyer, they will be interested in that lawyer’s case. Getting the jury on your side from the very start of the trial can be a big advantage, which is why conveying the proper body signals is crucial for attorneys. However, learning the correct techniques and body language to use in the courtroom can take years to master. Students who participate in activities like mock trial will get a hands-on experience in the courtroom unlike any other law class could prepare for. Furthermore, these students who participate in mock trial gain a better understanding of courtroom procedure, understand how body language functions during a trial, and feel more confident in their overall abilities. The
undergraduate study revealed the positives impacts performance courses and hands-on training have on student’s communication abilities. Yet it seems as though most lawyers entering the field do not feel as though they have been properly prepared. Professional development in firms is lacking, and law schools offer minimal opportunities for students to participate in performance courses. With the need for such performance classes, it can be concluded that law schools and firms are not doing enough. All of the undergrads surveyed feel as though mock trial as helped them improve their performance skills tremendously; one respondent who overlooks mock trial students noted that some of his mock trial members are already more prepared for the courtroom than most associates out of law school. Additionally, all of the attorneys surveyed except one felt they were unprepared when entering the courtroom for the first time. Respondent 5 stated that he would recommend firms and schools implementing more communication classes so attorneys are able to receive the experience before they actually matter to a real client. Other respondents stated they wished they had received more performance training, that performance training would have helped them immensely, and that mock trial and performance courses were the best form of hands-on courtroom learning. Law schools prefer to focus on material contained in the bar exam and are not offering enough courses to help aid young professionals develop these essential performance skills. Law firms are ignoring the need for professional development programs for their associates. Without these professional development opportunities, most lawyers will be entering the workforce with a rude awakening. Recommendations After a thorough analysis of the professional development world for attorneys, it is clear that reform is needed. When surveyed, 5 out of 5 of the legal professionals would recommend implementing more communication courses into the law school curriculum. Additionally, most of the lawyers surveyed felt as though their firm did not adequately prepare them for the real world. Our society needs a field of legal professionals who have the knowledge and the skills to perform and succeed in the courtroom. More performance classes should be taught at law schools. Law schools must seriously consider how their lack of presentation and skill-based courses is affecting attorneys in the long run. All of the legal professionals surveyed stated that they would recommend schools requiring at least one performance class before graduation—and this seems more than appropriate. Even if students at law schools aren’t certain that trial litigation is what they want to do, they need to get the experience first hand before that decision can even be made. Some may find after experiencing mock trials that they enjoy litigation much more than they had predicted. On the opposite spectrum, students who go into law school expecting to be trial attorneys may reconsider their decision if they find that mock trials and performing in front of an audience is not something they can handle. For both of these reasons, at least one performance course and mock trial class should be required before law school graduation. In additional, law firms need to find a way to incorporate professional development programs into their firms. The concerns expressed by most attorneys were that their firms were not offering adequate programs to prepare them for the courtroom. Lawyers need to be trained on how to perform rather than thrown in the courtroom with little or no guidance. Although large firms may be able to offer such services to attorneys, most lawyers won’t get the same opportunities. Attorneys who feel unsatisfied are leaving their firms at a quicker rate than ever. This is just one more reason why firms should consider implementing more vigorous training
efforts. In order to create a workforce of professionals who are competent, confident, knowledgeable, skilled and prepared—law schools and firms must consider reforming current programs to better fit the needs of today’s young legal professionals.
Attorney. (n.d.). Oxford Dictionaries Online. Retrieved December 13, 2012, from http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/attorney?q=attorney Attorneys Professional Development."Stoel Rives LLP Attorneys at Law. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. <http://www.stoel.com/Attorneys_ProfDev.h Body Language. (n.d.). Oxford Dictionaries Online. Retrieved December 13, 2012, from http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/body%2Blanguage?q=body+language Chow, A. (2012, January 6). Law Firm Professional Development Continues to Fall Short Law Firm Human Resources - Strategist. FindLaw Blogs. Retrieved November 15, 2012, from http://blogs.findlaw.com/strategist/2012/01/law-firm-professional-developmentcontinues-to-fall-short.html Find Satisfaction in the Law. (n.d.). Find Satisfaction in the Law. Retrieved November 12, 2012, from http://profdev.lp.findlaw.com/ Litigation. (n.d.). Oxford Dictionaries Online. Retrieved December 13, 2012, from http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/american_english/litigation?q=litigation Muir, R. (2007, November 30). Professional development for lawyers : Law People. Law People: Law Practice Management, Organizational and Personal Dynamics; Talent Management. Retrieved November 12, 2012, from http://www.lawpeopleblog.com/tags/professional-development-for-l/ Professional Development. (n.d.).Dictionary.com. Retrieved December 13, 2012, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/professional+development Reform. (n.d.). Oxford Dictionaries Online. Retrieved December 13, 2012, from http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/american_english/reform?q=reform
Segal, J. (n.d.). Nonverbal Communication: Improving Nonverbal Skills & Reading Body Language. Help Guide. Retrieved December 12, 2012, from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/eq6_nonverbal_communication.htm Whelan, M. (2011, October). Communication Technique. Courtrooms and Communication. Lecture conducted at Ithaca College, Ithaca NY.
Published on Apr 24, 2013
Published in April 2013 by Rochester Institute of Technology. Citation: Weiss, Helene M. "Professional Development for Attorneys: A Call...