Paul L. Caron
Dean


Monday, June 24, 2019

Improv For Law Students

Improv for Law Students

Ben Bratman (Pittsburgh), Improv for First-Year Law Students?:

Just over a year ago, in search of a mid-life growth opportunity, I began taking improv (i.e., improvisational performance) classes at a small theater in Pittsburgh. For decades, I had been a fan of improv as a comedy form but did not have the confidence to think that I could step on a stage and do it myself. Then I happened upon Alan Alda’s book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on my Face? Post his acting career, Alda has become a communications consultant of sorts, working primarily with scientists to help them explain complex ideas in ways that a lay audience can understand. One of the central messages of the book is that improv training and exercises can help professionals of all types relate to others more empathetically and communicate with others more confidently and clearly. Alda references studies showing the benefits of improv training and describes his own experiences running improv exercises for groups of engineers and other scientists.

After reading Alda’s book, I realized that my job as a law professor is to communicate complex ideas to a lay audience too. So, I decided that I could benefit from improv classes—and have some fun at the same time.

My improv experiences over the past year, including joining a team and performing numerous short sets before a live audience, have convinced me that, in short, legal education needs improv. More specifically, to improve the learning environment throughout law school, entering first-year law students need improv! (I could write a separate post on the salutary effects that improv training has had on my teaching, but I will focus for now on how exposure to improv could benefit law students.)

There are CLE courses on improv offered for practicing lawyers (for example, in California and Florida), and there is a blog on improvisational skills for lawyers. But how about improv for law students? Based on a cursory online search, it appears that a handful of law schools offer or have offered improv courses or workshops, including Drexel and Indiana University McKinney. How much improv work has been done with 1Ls, if any, is unclear. ...

I see multiple potential benefits for law students (and, in turn, their professors) that could come from some basic improv training with exercises, offered perhaps within an orientation program before classes begin. For starters, law students, like lawyers, need to work collaboratively and need to relate to each other in a civil and empathetic manner. Improv’s emphasis on teamwork can help in that regard, enhancing students’ abilities to work productively and constructively with classmates in group exercises and projects. ...

You Are EnoughPosted on the wall of the green room at the theater where I take improv classes is a sign that reads “You Are Enough.” For any law student, improv can impart the message that, even though there will be struggles and mistakes along the way, you are indeed enough. I continue to get nervous before my improv team’s shows, and on more than a few occasions, I have said or done things on the improv stage that fell flat, did not effectively advance the scene, or otherwise just did not feel right. Yes, I get frustrated. But I keep confidently walking in front of the audience because that is how I will continue to learn and grow. So it should be for law students in the classroom, and ultimately in the practice of law, and in life.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2019/06/improv-for-law-students.html

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink

Comments

Thank you, Paul, for posting excerpts from my post and a link. After I published the full piece on the Best Practices blog, I heard from a few folks and learned of at least one improv based course for first-year law students. It's one of the legal practice and perspective elective options for 1Ls at Ohio State. The course is called "Lawyers as Effective Communicators," and it's taught by Professor Olwyn Conway, who has an extensive improv background. https://moritzlaw.osu.edu/academics/course-explorer/professor/olwyn-conway/. I'm hoping to bring Olwyn to Pitt to talk to our faculty at a teaching workshop.

Posted by: Ben Bratman | Jun 24, 2019 7:55:48 AM

Thank you for this posting.

Posted by: Abraham S Carnow | Jun 24, 2019 9:17:09 AM

Paul, this is an excellent post and I'm so happy to see other legal professionals embrace improv. I actually started improv during my 1L summer, back in 2011, and fell in love with it after my very first class. Not only did I have fun during what was otherwise a stressful summer (and after a stressful year), I saw the benefits immediately.

Fast forward 8 years - I still take classes and perform, but now I teach improv at startups, nonprofits, co-working spaces and more, and I'm just going to do my first startup workshop with Northeastern Law this coming July.

Interestingly, despite being a former law student, lawyer, and now a legal tech startup founder, law schools have been REALLY hard to pitch - even when I offered to teach the course at a very low cost. I'd love to connect with you on this and chat about it - I feel that improv can be SO instrumental for law students, from getting them comfortable for moot court to interviewing for internships and jobs, the skills are immensely transferable. And to boot, the process of gaining those skills, i.e. improv workshops or full-blown classes, are fun.

Check out some of my content on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/improvforstartups/

Thanks again for posting this!!
- Roman

Posted by: Roman | Jun 25, 2019 8:55:49 AM