Workshop helps lawyers think fast on their feet

By Tom Gantert
Legal News

Allison Bates has worked as both a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney.

The Jackson lawyer said in criminal cases there are no depositions, and witnesses can often surprise her.

Questions race through her head: Should she attack? Let it slide? How important is this witness? Is it very damaging? How sympathetic is the witness to the jury?

“It’s a judgment call right on the spot on how you want to approach it,” Bates said.

The State Bar of Michigan Young Lawyers Section is trying to help young attorneys make the best of those moments. They will host a “Think Fast! Boot Camp For New Lawyers” at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12 at the Go Comedy! Improv Theatre in Ferndale.

The $10 workshop runs from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Participants will work with actors who will help teach improvisational skills.

Syeda Davidson, a Clinton Township attorney with the Young Lawyers Section, said the goal is to help attorneys sharpen their on-the-spot thinking.

“A lot of people are having to go solo and not getting mentoring,” Davidson said. “They are hanging out their own shingle. They really are training themselves... It’s about handling the unexpected. It happens to everyone in court all the time.”

Davidson said the skill training is much like the TV show, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” in which host Drew Carey would throw out a topic and four performers would have to improvise their responses.

“It’s about maybe the judge is going to ask you a question that you weren’t prepared for,” Davidson said.

Jackson attorney Craig Pappin said lawyers have to be on guard for the unexpected.

“You never know what witnesses are going to say,” Pappin said. “You never know what objections are going to come from the other side. It is a lot of skill building. You have to go through the process. It comes with more experience.”

Washtenaw County 15th Judicial District Court Judge Chris Easthope said he catches an attorney off guard “all the time.” He said he will send he will send a person to jail even though jail time was not recommended by the probation officer.

Sometimes, the surprised attorney will say, “Your honor, can we talk about this first?”

On one occasion, to buy time, an attorney asked Easthope, “Can I go pay my meter?”

“I thought it was amusing,” Easthope said.

Improvising is important as long as you understand the law, he said.

“If you improvise but don’t know what you are talking about, it catches up to you,” Easthope said.

“All good trial attorneys have to be quick on their feet.”