The Legal Advocate

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Strike a Pose

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Written By NITA Author Rebecca Diaz-Bonilla

In her 2012 speech, Dr. Amy Cuddy dazzled her audience with her research on power poses and their powerful effect on the measurable confidence of a speaker.  Amy Cuddy theorizes that certain wide and open physical stances help increase adrenaline and produce a more confident speaker.  Her original Ted Talk now ranks as one of the most watched in Ted Talk history, and her fans are still buzzing.  If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.  In her recent CBS interview, she defends the utility of power poses against her critics.

How can power poses be used in the courtroom for litigators?  Just like any best practice in oral communication, an attorney should first master the rule and then know how and when to break the rule.  Power posing is no different.

  1. Practice in your everyday environment. I rarely coach a chameleon attorney – one who appears powerless in meetings and wishy-washy on the phone, but shows up in court with a John Wayne swagger.  Physical confidence needs to be practiced until the habit is formed.  If you want to know how to appear commanding on cue in the courtroom, practice confident power posing every day.  If power poses don’t work, find another method.
  2. Find home base. In my coaching, I refer to the still position taken between gestures as “home base.”  A power pose is not home base.  Power poses should be done in the bathroom with the stall door shut.  Home base positions are for public consumption.  Everyone should find three standing and seated home base positions.  Actor’s neutral (hands resting straight down on either side) and a torso hold (hands connecting at a height between belly button and belt) are staples.  The magic third depends on your personality and body shape.  A tall imposing man may want to try a one hand in pocket home base during direct examination to make the witness feel more comfortable.  A smaller framed woman needs an elbow-wide, shoulders back podium hold to look commanding in a federal courtroom.
  3. Being confident is important, but reading the audience and adjusting accordingly is the mark of a skilled advocate.  I encourage clients to strike a balance of confidence and likability.  Go ahead and pump up with power poses before your next court appearance, but be willing and able to hide the peacock, if needed.  For example, it serves the advocate well to appear more humble when the judge is clearly on his side during an argument. Read the non-verbal cues of the audience and change your home base accordingly.
  4. The external power-pose technique helps an advocate appear more confident, but he should not neglect the interior. Some advocates are better inspired by starting inside, and letting the right emotion guide his outward appearance.  If you try power posing and it doesn’t work, do not despair.  Half of my clients need internal motivation to change outward appearances of confidence.  Remembering a huge success, thinking of a motivational speech, or anything that makes you think and feel confident can make the body react accordingly.

There are many paths to developing a confident appearance…power posing is one you should try.


Rebecca Diaz-Bonilla has also presented in NITA’s studio71 webcasts: Rise above the rest: Mastering the Top 10 Communication Skills for Lawyers Part One and Part Two as well as Authored the book: Foolproof: An Attorney’s Guide to Communication

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NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system.

NITA’s Goals are to:

  • Promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy.
  • Train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice.
  • Develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.
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