In Praise of Josh Karton
In 1995, I met acting teacher/actor/screenwriter Josh Karton while struggling over how to pull off my chosen role as a prosecutor of O.J. Simpson (probably better fact patterns could have been selected for the exercise) for a mock jury trial at the Trial Lawyers College. I chose the prosecution role knowing the importance of understanding my opponents on the ongoing road to successfully defending my clients in criminal court.
During my practice session with the opening argument, Josh Karton took me aside and asked how I was feeling. I told him I was feeling deep obstacles putting myself in the role of a prosecutor when I believe so strongly in my role as a criminal defense lawyer. He asked me about people I care most about in my life, and then asked me to imagine that that person’s life relied on my performance in prosecuting this case. I will not say that this fully transformed me, because an instant metamorphosis was not to have been. However, Josh did have an uncanny ability to quickly discover my roadblock and to help me find my passageway around it.
A few years later, I was representing a man who was seriously injured in an automobile collision, and his case helps highlight why I seriously limit the number of personal injury clients I represent and focus my law practice on criminal defense. I was trying to figure out how to help me and this man transcend from his constantly repeated complaints about why settlement offers were not higher for him, as we approached depositions and trials more closely and needed to prepare for them and move beyond merely complaining.
I called Josh to find out about his availability and billing approach to helping me with this trial. Instead, our phone call made further work with Josh on the case unnecessary, as Josh helped me internalize the story of the many obstacles my client had successfully overcome in life and how this injury was a serious reversal for him, a reversal that I could communicate to our jury in asking for monetary damages. Psychodramatist Don Clarkson added to my efforts to transcend my obstacles advocating for this man, by pointing out that he lives an isolated life, and for me to make all the more effort to just spend a weekend afternoon with him not even needing to say much about the case other than to tell him later in our meeting about my concerns about our case absent transcending his heavy emphases on complaining to me about his predicament. The foregoing advice of Josh and Don can be applied as variations on a theme for my better connecting with all my clients and to most powerfully communicate their stories to judges, jurors, and opposing lawyers.
Josh Karton teaches lawyers acting not to help them be fake, but to help them bring out their clients’ stories as persuasively as possible through the same kind of realness that is a heavy focus of the Trial Lawyers College, especially through my hero John Johnson.
Although I have some material disagreements with the Trial Lawyers College’s present overinstitutionalization and unfairness in letting one or more staff members go, Josh Karton and my friend and psychodramatist Don Clarkson continue to provide me good reasons to attend all programs in which they are involved, including the Trial Lawyers College.
Here are some links on Josh Karton:
- Josh’s resume. Josh’s photo.
- Joshua Karton, “On Paper v. In Person: From Writer to Actor — Communication Techniques for Persuasive Advocacy” (2002). In the Trial Lawyers College 2009 Handbook at 76.
- Josh reminds people that even the most tyrannical-seeming judges were once helpless babies in diapers.
- Film Scenes for Actors (Joshua Karton, ed.).
Thanks to you, Josh, for all you have done for me and for so many others.