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TOP THREE WAYS THEATRICAL IMPROVISATION CAN IMPROVE YOUR LEGAL CAREER

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 11.06.27 PMDoing improv on any stage is exactly what you should do to be successful in your legal career—as a litigator and mediator. I am  not only a comedian, but an improv actor, lawyer and professional speaker. Improv helps in all of them.


“Try to keep your mind open to possibilities and your mouth closed on matters that you don’t know about. Limit your ‘always’ and your ‘nevers.’ “

Amy Poehler


 

Getting laughs isn’t the point of improv workshops. It’s not about being funny—Improv for Lawyers workshops focus on the lessons lawyers can get from practicing improv including creativity, communication, advocacy and collaboration.

YOU ARE FORCED TO COLLABORATE

One of the improv exercises that is particularly relevant is the “yes, and” technique. Used in performance improv, “yes, and” means listening to what someone else says and building upon it. In law, there’s a lot of ‘no’. It’s adversarial and lawyers are really eager to get their own ideas heard.

Using the “yes, and” technique, a statement is made such as “I am flying to LA.” The next player may add, “Yes, and I am renting a car.” The next player may add, “Yes, and the car will be rented from Avis.” As odd as this may sound in a courtroom setting, the idea is to get lawyers to collaborate and understand that any idea that’s brought to the table can be accepted, added upon and made better.


“With improv, it’s a combination of listening and not trying to be funny.”

Kristen Wiig

YOU HAVE TO LET GO OF JUDGEMENT

Tossing judgment out is a practice that can be invaluable in preparing for litigation and can help improve creativity of all lawyers on the legal team. Too often the pressure of being right, or feeling that you have to come up with the best and brightest idea can bring the creative process to a halt, improvisation promotes “following the fear”, a term coined by improv guru Del Close.

When Close was at the Committee Theater, he painted ‘Follow the Fear’ on the back wall in big, block letters,” observed actor and Close student Bret Scott. “He wanted actors to look out over the audience and see those words while they were improvising. That was pretty much his philosophy in a nutshell. If there’s something that makes you uncomfortable, something that scares you, then that’s the direction you should be going. Fear and truth are inextricably intertwined.”

Practicing improvisational comedy gives lawyers the confidence to throw an idea on the table, as silly or wrong as it may end up being.


“You have to be able to fail with the improv. You have to not care.”

Adam McKay


YOU BECOME A BETTER LISTENER

Communication is a key area that improves through improv workshops a hundredfold. Making things up on the spot, ideas can get lost. Lawyers need to be clear, and they have to be good listeners. A great improv game for listening is called WARM UP: KNIFE BABY ANGRY CAT

All participants should walk around the room.  Ask one participant to pantomime throwing a knife, ninja-style, to another participant.  They should make a swooshing sound as the knife is thrown.  That participant catches the knife and throws it to another participant.

Once that goes well, add a pantomimed baby to the mix.  The baby must be thrown very carefully.  Give the baby a sound that is clearly distinguished from the knife.

If that goes well, add in an angry cat. Again with a distinct sound and a distinct throwing style.

Feel free to add other objects but make sure throwing style and sound are different.  The participants themselves can come up with things to throw.

THE RULES:

  1. Everyone must keep walking around.
  2. There must be eye contact between the thrower and the catcher before the knife is thrown: it should be very clear who is supposed to catch the knife.  The same applies to the baby and cat.
  3. There should not be more than 3-4 seconds between throws.  If someone hesitates, you start again.
  4. The game builds the idea of being present in the moment, trust, and having fun.

Most of the time, lawyers will listen to everyone else except the lawyer or client directly in front of them. The reason for this is they’re thinking about what they’re going to say next and not focused on what other people are saying.  This exercise teaches lawyers the importance not only of listening but understanding the other’s point of view before reacting.


“THE JOB IS NOT TO SUCCEED BUT FAIL MORE INTERESTING THAN THE LAST TIME—- IN A MORE SUBTLE FASHION OR IN A MORE INTRIGUING WAY.”

TJ JAGODOWSKI


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Improvisational Theater Skills for Lawyers