Consumer Attorneys of California 52nd Annual Convention: “Trial Skills: Practical Hands on Improv Practice Session.”
Presented by Brian Breiter, Esq. and Jeffry Krivis
Here is a write up on the presentation by Scott Kaizen: The second panel I attended titled, “Trial Skills: Practical Hands on Improv Practice Session.” When I walked in, my first thought was, wow this is 3 ½ hours long! Is this going to be a one way presentation where I struggle to stay interested? No way, thankfully! This session was expertly facilitated by Jeff Krivis of First Mediation Corporation and Brian Breiter of the Law Offices of Brian Breiter. The panel was comprised of a who’s who list of top Plaintiff trial lawyers including Frank Pitre, Bruce Broillet, Gary Dordick , Gayle Blatt, and John Taylor. A great panel, great education and they left me wanting to learn more!
They started out with a hilarious, brief Monty Python video called, The Argument Clinic. If you are not familiar with it, check it out: You’ll want to share it with others! This lead Jeff to the question, “Can we argue to lead to further inquiry?”
Jeff came to the realization that the structured mediation process he had been trained in and using wasn’t working. Along the road he had an epiphany that his talent was improvisation. This lead Jeff to sign up for an improvisation class, perform a stand up routine to a large audience of strangers, forgot his material, remembered his material, won over the audience and moved from a structured mediation process to an improv approach with great success.
The session was centered around two concepts:
1.“Yes, and….” This is a common exercise with improvisational theatre to continue dialogue & understanding without using “Yes, but” or “No.”
2.Status: Where people fall in the pecking order and adjusting our approach to meet people at their view of the world.
Material was delivered through interactive audience participation in games and exercises and panel conversations. Great adult learning structure: Varied and interesting.
Bruce Broillet role played through a jury selection process and how he mostly improvises asking open ended questions, strives to adjust his status accordingly in the process using words and body language without offending the prospective jurors. And this jury selection process may have to be accomplished in less than 30 minutes in some cases. Pressure is on! Although this process works for Bruce, his view is that Attorneys need to find their own natural style and not try and mimic others.
Gary Dordick does some planning upfront with topics at a high level versus a pure improv style. He walked us through how he often starts the jury selection process with the questions, “How many are happy about potentially being on a jury for 2 months? Who is unhappy?” His finding is that having people who want to be on a jury often leads to a larger verdict.
John Taylor talked about assessing “fairness” as part of Voir Dire. Gayle Blatt commented, “it’s ok to be honest, that’s what we are trying to get to” when speaking with perspective jurors. Frank Pitre’s process involves understanding what the key questions are and what the responses mean for jury selection. He gave an aviation example where someone bought a gun, shot the crew and the plane crashed. He knew the dynamics of how often people traveled would lead to a distinct thought process where he felt confident about selecting people to be on the jury to get the outcome he desired.
After jury selection, the panel talked about cross examination and the paradox of controlling witness testimony or letting the witness talk to the point where they lose credibility with the jury. It’s a fine line that requires skill to manage.
The last topic was about “status” both understanding where people are in the pecking order and how to adjust either to meet them at their view of the world, exert more status for control or exude less status for empathy…