Lecture teaches law students acting techniques for the courtroom

Published: November 5th, 2012

Category: News

By Felicia Holloman (3L)

Have you ever considered trying to suppress an emotion to better convey it or using upward inflections at the end of a thought to draw in an audience?

Paul Morella, an actor in Washington, D.C., challenged a crowd of University of Florida College of Law students on Oct. 29 to channel their inner actors during trial.

In Morella’s presentation, “Art of Persuasion,” he discussed a number of acting techniques that may help lawyers better communicate with a jury.

For example, to convey passion to the audience, Morella suggests acting as if the issue at trial happened to someone you know.

“If it is personal to me, it resonates with the audience,” Morella said.

When asked about overcoming stage fright, Morella advised students to focus on tasks to avoid self-consciousness. “Stage fright is energy. The question is how do you channel it?”

Morella considers speaking too fast a frequent pitfall of law students. Silence, he believes, can be a powerful instrument in emphasizing a point to the jury.

“It takes a lot of confidence to trust that the silence will be filled,” Morella said after taking a long pause.

To avoid a monotone delivery of an opening statement or closing argument, Morella told students to try suppressing an emotion.

“A drunk does not try to be drunk; he tries to be sober,” Morella said. According to Morella, through the act of masking one’s emotion or state of mind, individuals often inadvertently publicize their feelings.

But Morella insists that using acting techniques in trial need not be disingenuous or manipulative.

“Acting actually is channeling a particular character through who you really are,” Morella said.

Morella’s lecture is part of a class he teaches at the Washington College of Law. When he is not teaching, Morella is a stage actor. He recently starred as Clarence Darrow at the Hippodrome Theater in Gainesville and has portrayed many famous lawyers in plays throughout the years.

“Darrow is probably the most famous trial lawyer of the 20th century,” Morella said.

The presentation was hosted by the UF Law Trial Team and the Southern Legal Counsel.