I practice law in Lubbock, Texas, where I hung out my shingle immediately after finishing law school in 2008. I was very fortunate to have a group of dedicated mentors who helped me get my firm off the ground. The majority of my practice consists of criminal defense work, although I also handle personal injury, family, small business, and traffic ticket cases. I have worked hard to build a brand for my firm and have achieved a level of success that I am proud of at this point in my career. However, eight years of running a small law firm has taken its toll on me.
I recently spoke with a colleague about our careers, and the conversation was similar to one I have had many times with fellow attorneys, all along the spectrum of work experience. Some of us question whether law was the correct career choice, and discuss what else we might do with our lives. These questions seem more poignant when more experienced colleagues warn me to get out of the profession while I still have the opportunity.
I often feel overwhelmed by a load of work that never wanes. When I close one case, there are still multiple pending cases to analyze and handle. While I often feel like my workload is too heavy, I struggle turning away new cases for fear of losing out on income. I continuously think to myself that I just need a short break in life, a reboot period, a breath of fresh air. Still, my caseload grows. My desire is to build my firm, and each year I promise myself that I only need one more year of working to reduce the caseload. However, that cycle has continued year after year. I also struggle with the age-old question attorneys face: “Did I do the best job I could on each case, or am I just going through the motions?”
In addition to the struggles I face running a law office, and managing the business overhead, I worry about how it all affects my personal life. My student loan debt lingers, making me wonder monthly whether law school was worth the cost. I married in January and we paid for the wedding ourselves, which added to the growing weight of debt on my shoulders. And while finances are always on my mind, I wonder if I give enough time to my family and friends. Far too often, I bring work home with me, adding a level of stress to my personal life. I feel that I care more about answering or returning phone calls and responding to emails after hours than cherishing the small moments with my loved ones. It seems as though I put my clients’ lives before everyone else, including myself. The scariest part is that I recognize it, and I still put my clients first. The vast majority of my clients could not care less about me as long as I get them what they want, so why do I make them such a priority in my life?
As you read my story, did my professional and personal problems matter to you? Did you connect with them emotionally, maybe having encountered the same ones in your own professional career? Did you experience your own past, present, or future in my story? That is how psychodrama can be used in the court cases. It enables the advocate to tell a story that helps the judge or jury connect with the client. Our profession is centered on zealous advocacy for our clients. If you are interested in learning how to discover and effectively communicate your clients’ stories to others, I recommend attending a psychodrama-based seminar.
Psychodrama is a tool implemented at different stages of trial preparation. The trial lawyer employs storytelling as a device for organizing, understanding, and retaining facts and ideas. Psychodrama assists lawyers in developing their clients’ stories in a manner with which the jury may connect both logically and emotionally.
Psychodrama is not a new concept. Many criminal defense attorneys naturally incorporate psychodramatic techniques into their trials. Similarly, the Reptile Theory was introduced to personal injury cases several years ago. Day in and day out, prosecutors use the concepts of the Reptile Theory on jurors without knowledge of the theory. Prosecutors appeal to a jury’s anger or fear by getting them mad at, or scared of, our clients.
Psychodrama, however, is not a miraculous concept assuring you win your case. John Ackerman once explained that psychodrama has its limitations. Although the process helps you connect with yourself, your clients, and your juries, psychodrama simply enables us to develop and communicate the story. Just as a baker has a special recipe, a criminal defense attorney should have his or her recipe for success. Learning psychodramatic techniques provides a lawyer with an efficient and systematic approach to defending criminal cases. It is another tool for the tool belt, not an all-in-one solution. Nevertheless, we can show every client we care by discovering their story and sharing it.
Judges and juries must see themselves in our client’s stories, regardless of how good or bad our client appears in the facts presented. Without that connection, we are simply trial attorneys presenting arguments on the facts. As defense attorneys, we have the unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our clients. Through psychodrama, we have the competitive edge to differentiate ourselves from other advocates. I hope this article makes you question whether you can better discover and communicate your client’s story. If so, please join us at the next TCDLA trial seminar in Round Top, Texas.