Lawyers, Actors

Photo by Emily Slack
Photo by Emily Slack

By Ryan Buxton | LSU Student

They say all the world's a stage, and the courtroom appears to be no exception.

A lawyer's delivery is an important factor in influencing a jury's verdict, which is what brought aspiring lawyers and second-year Master of Fine Arts (MFA) acting students together recently.

Students in Prof. Christine Corcos' theater law class at LSU's Hebert Law Center are paired with acting students for one-on-one workshops in which the actors coach law students on how to make the most of interactions with juries.

"Anytime you have a script, there's always a challenge to make these black marks come to life," said Greg Leute, one of the MFA student coaches.

Each law student performed a closing argument from the book "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury: Greatest Closing Arguments in Modern Law," an array of final points made at high-profile trials.

Using these famous statements allows Corcos' students to focus on presence and performance without having to worry about the quality of the word themselves.

A lawyer's delivery is one of the things a jury remembers during deliberations, Corcos said. "The jury remembers evidence presented, but it also does remember the demeanor of the attorney. It's difficult to measure, but certainly the jury does react differently to an attorney who presents well."

Leute coached third-year law student Ford Athmann on his interpretation of prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter's final statement in the trial surrounding the 1963 murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

The pair deliberated back and forth, Leute taking copious notes as he watched Athmann read the statement.

MFA student Jessica Jain's pen was moving just as fast as she scribbled thoughts about second-year law student Jeremy Ancar's delivery. Jain absorbed every line of Ancar's statement, nodding along when he reached particularly resolute moments.

Tuesday marked the first time Ancar had ever read the statement aloud after poring over it alone. He said hearing the words through his own voice was a different experience than reading it silently.

"As I read, sometimes I got a weird look on my face if I didn't like how it sounded."

Though there was plenty to say about technical issues, such as enunciation, most of the coaching focused on something less tangible — emotion.

"I want to start off with that emotion," Athmann told Leute as they discussed how to play a sentence. "This is when you tug on their heartstrings to get [jury members] on your side."

Leute agreed, but he encouraged Athmann to let the power of his words take center stage rather than trying to milk a reaction from the jury.

"You're saying, 'I'm not going to try to overwhelm them with emotion. I'm going to give you the facts. The facts will make you weep and bleed and scream for justice.'"

That idea resonated with Athmann. After the pair dissected a paragraph from the argument, he said he understood the benefit of "letting the words do the work for you."

Leute said though the goal of the exercise is to teach law students to work a jury like an actor would an audience, he felt the workshop was beneficial to him as well.

"These are real life issues. It isn't fiction. It isn't artifice," Leute said. "It helps [actors] get a different perspective."