Authenticity in the Courtroom - The Process of Becoming De-Lawyered

It wasn't until much later in my legal career that I came to understand that the most effective trial lawyers didn't act like lawyers at all, especially in front of a jury. Many of the truly great lawyers were the same people in court that they were outside of court. They present themselves in a humble fashion and personally relate to people from all walks of life.

For many years, I was afraid I would never be able to develop the skills that were necessary to be an effective trial lawyer. I felt I would never become the type of lawyer I believed I needed to be. I was not a good orator and was nervous speaking in front of groups.

In 2003, I became involved in a program designed to help trial lawyers discover who they really were as people, not lawyers. The concept of the program is that by understanding yourself better, you can understand and connect more authentically with other people, including jurors. Basically, the intense 3 ½ week program was designed to "de–lawyer" lawyers. It was here, ten miles up a dirt road in a big barn, in one of the most isolated areas of the country, twenty miles northwest of Dubois, Wyoming, where trial lawyer Gerry Spence, psychodramatists and Spence's staff went about "de–lawyering" myself and others who were students at Spence's non–profit "Trial Lawyers College."

The basic premise taught at the College is if we are our authentic selves with people who become jurors, and if we trust them, they will trust us. One goal is to genuinely connect with jurors so that they may lay aside the stereotypes of lawyers that have been drone into people's belief systems for years. To obtain their trust, we must tell them the truth and must truly believe in our cases whole heartedly. Some lawyers don't have such a luxury, especially the justice seekers at the Public Defender's Offices.

Given the format of trials and our legal training, there is little wonder some of us lack authenticity. I was taught to leave emotion out of legal arguments and be able to argue any side of an issue. This philosophy is inapposite to good storytelling skills necessary for effective communication.

Most of the students at the College discovered we had formed thick walls around us that kept us from knowing who we were as human beings. Because of the safety of the environment created by the psychodramatists, we began sharing very personal, usually traumatic, experiences that still haunted us. Stories of the deaths of loved ones (including children), rapes and painful rejections were shared; needless to say confidentiality was required. What we discovered during this intense process is that most all human beings have similar fears. Rejection, abandonment, issues with our parents and the need to be accepted were common themes. After a couple days of this intense "personal work," the last thing that came to our minds were that we were lawyers.

We left the Ranch feeling entirely different about ourselves, other people, the world around us – and ultimately how we practiced law. The process humanized us and made many of us feel again. As a result, we understood how a witness, defendant, plaintiff, prosecutor, judge or a juror might feel or perceive events. We learned to reverse roles with others and especially with our clients and tried to see what they were experiencing when seminal events of their cases occurred. As a result, we understood how a witness, defendant, plaintiff, prosecutor, judge or a juror might feel or perceive events. We learned to reverse roles with others and especially with our clients and tried to see what they were experiencing when seminal events of their cases occurred.

If we are mindful of what those with whom we are addressing are experiencing, be it judges or jurors during jury selection and be honest with them about our concerns in our cases, they will see we are being authentic. This should lead them to trust us. However, a "relationship" will only form if we are in fact honest with them and, of course, with ourselves about our case.


For information on how these methods were applied in an actual case of Jim's see "Defending a Lawyer in Federal Court" published in the Fall 2005 issue of The Defender magazine published by the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Jim Jenkins graduated from FSU Law School with honors in 1985. He has been an Assistant State Attorney, Assistant State Public Defender and Assistant Federal Defender. He practices in State and Federal Criminal Courts. He is "AV" rated by Martindale Hubbell and has had more than 600 hours of post graduate training since graduating from the College in 2003. For more information on the College, please visit www.triallawyerscollege.com or give Jim a call.