Fear is hiding around every corner for a lawyer….
It hides behind an unexpected admission from your witness: “What if I can’t shut them down or they start running on me again?”
“Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out.”
— Karl Augustus Menninger
It might be hiding around your next several prepared questions: “What if you miss a question or ask them out of order?”
It might be crouching in your closing statement: “Is the jury getting my narrative?”
Fear is hiding around every corner for an actor…
It hides behind your scene partner doing something unexpected or unrehearsed: “What did she just do?”
It might be hiding around your next lines of dialogue: “Okay, it’s almost my cue… wait, what was I going to say?”
It might be crouching in the big closing scene: “Is the audience enjoying the show? Do they like my performance?”
Lawyers are performers too and, just like actors, you have to learn to manage the effects of fear, which can be paralyzing and can keep you from executing at the top of your game. For lawyers, the consequences of your performance can be stark. It can mean the difference between freedom and incarceration or the size of your client’s reward. With stakes this high, it is completely normal to feel some fear.
In the world of theatre, we work to accept performative fear and harness it so that it can be transformed into energy that can drive us forward, not paralyze us. This is especially true in improvisational acting. Lawyer’s Improv Workshop uses exercises to encourage the acceptance of failure and embrace the unexpected. After all, those are normal, inevitable parts of being a lawyer and a performer.
In fact, in improv, we teach ourselves to celebrate failure. Accepting the fact that we will likely fail from time to time, can reduce fear and help us rebound faster. The quicker you recover from a mistake, the more you live in the moment, take fear by the reins and react with purpose.
Learning the skills to “control” fear can turn it into your friend, rather than an enemy lurking in the shadows.