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| 2 minutes read

Improv Comedy Training Makes Better Lawyers

I've trained at the Conservatory at Second City Hollywood because I love it. But my training as an actor and improviser makes me a better lawyer. It's not just that a good joke or a sense of humor can ease tensions and make you more persuasive. Improv comedy is a serious business that has real business applications and offers great preparation for the performance lawyers have to have to give in a boardroom or the courtroom. Second City Works offers training that helps students to:

  1. Say "Yes, and …" By accepting a base reality and building on it, you can begin to create a shared, cohesive experience. Judges like to be right, so if you want to persuade them to change their position, agree with a base reality and pivot to a point that can move them.
  2. Listen.  According to Second City, “Listening is a muscle — it needs to be worked to see improvement.” Lots of lawyers like to talk, but in listening we become better communicators.
  3. Build “ensemble.”  As Second City describes it, an ensemble is a thing unto itself, or “an entity that is only its true self when all its members are performing as one.” When you are in a courtroom, the whole team need to operate seamlessly as a unit.
  4.  Co-create. In improv, the ensemble and the audience collaborate to build a hilarious reality with unexpected and funny results. In the legal profession, the lawyer and her or his clients are partners in building value or reducing risk, liability and exposure.
  5. Be Authentic. What's true is funny.  Being real and authentic, and having the ability to laugh at an inherently absurd situation makes us real and approachable. Attorneys don't need to be the experts in an ivory tower. But experts in an ivory tower sounds like a great setup for a sketch. How will they get lunch?
  6. Fail. One of my favorite teachers, Tim Stoltenberg, now the artistic director of Dad's Garage in Atlanta emphasizes failure, including an exercise "Bad Impressions." My Barack Obama impression is truly awful, but the behavior and voices that come out when I attempt a bad impression make for a very funny character. Nobody cares, we all laugh, and learn some humility. Acceptance of failure, and mistakes, offer the greatest learning. 
  7. Follow the follower. This game invented by Viola Spolin, the "mother" of the modern improv movement, involves mirroring one another. When everyone is a follower, the energy of the group allows us all to create something new and unique as an ensemble.

Sign up for an improv class. Do it online if you don't live near a training center or have extra time while waiting your turn for a vaccine. Learn how to listen, say "yes, and," be part of an ensemble, fail and laugh at yourself. You can thank me later.


“So often lawyers are tempted to read some theoretically perfect ‘script’ they have written in advance,” Hunter says. “But they cannot possibly read something they wrote earlier because events in a courtroom unfold unpredictably in real time — the entire trial is a giant improv around their client’s unfortunate theme.”