Six Things “Bad” Movies Can Teach us About Oral Advocacy, 1121 SCBJ, SC Lawyer, November 2021, #42

PositionVol. 33 Issue 3 Pg. 42

Six Things “Bad” Movies Can Teach Us About Oral Advocacy

No. Vol. 33 Issue 3 Pg. 42

South Carolina BAR Journal

November, 2021


Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “The written argument endures. The oral argument is fleeting.” With all due respect to the Notorious RBG, the impression an oral advocate makes can indeed be a lasting one. Oral advocacy encompasses much more than simply arguing before a court of law. Attorneys must make presentations in mediation, before boards of directors, and to one another. Sometimes there is time to prepare and sometimes there is not. By remembering lessons learned from some of the worst movies of all time, advocates can be ready for anything oral advocacy throws at them.

Poor acting

Bad movies are rife with examples of bad acting. In the famously terrible cult film The Room, the main character Johnny is played by legendary auteur Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau is a phenomenon of bad acting; he clenches his fists when he screams “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” and switches tone in an instant from frustration at “I did not hit her, I did not!” to absolute calm at “Oh hi Mark.” While Wiseau now claims that The Room was meant to be a comedy, there is some evidence that the initial intent was to make a drama. Things worked out for Wiseau, who is now famous because of the movie and has been himself played by James Franco in The Disaster Artist. An oral advocate must beware of this kind of notoriety because for all his fortune, Wiseau is still best known as a fool.

As in movies, bad acting in oral advocacy is a big problem. In a field where credibility is king, bad acting is one of the swiftest ways to lose your audience’s trust. What to do when you are a lawyer and have no acting training? Just remember a few simple rules:

“Never lose yourself on the stage. Always act in your own person, as an artist. The moment you lose yourself on the stage marks the departure from truly living your part and the beginning of exaggerated false acting.” –Konstantin Stanislavski

Do not force an emotion when you have none, because your audience will be able to tell. Practice your lines if you have a chance so that you become used to the sound of your argument. Record yourself giving your argument and listen to it to identify places where you can improve. In short, prepare like a n actor would prepare, and your advocacy will only improve.

Plot holes

Any experienced advocate knows that legal “plot holes” cannot be controlled. Your client may be facing bad facts, bad law, or both. This is when it is time to pound the proverbial table. But how? Let’s take a page from a classic: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great movie. Indiana Jones is a flawed character who shoots when he could punch, makes stupid mistakes, and is an inconstant friend and lover. Through the course of the movie, Indy not only gets the girl and gets revenge on a jerk from his past, he is also...

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