What’s Not Bull About Bull – Episode Five “Just Tell The Truth”

31 October 2016

By Katherine James


This week’s episode of Bull involves another criminal case – with Dr. Bull and his crack trial consulting team working on the side of the defense once more. This week I was really struck by the fact that we as television viewers are just not used to “the good guys” working on the side of criminal defendants. Dick Wolf and his myriad of Law And Order franchises really have been centered on prosecutors and police officers and detectives as the good guys and the “accused” as the bad guys. As is almost every show that involves the law since Perry Mason. In this episode, Dr. Bull starts out working for the prosecution and then ends up working for the defense (yes, conflict of interest is one of the many OompaLoompas* in this fantastical episode). It allows us to see the M&M* that trial consultants are used in criminal cases by both the prosecution and the defense in real life.

There were two nuggets of truth that I found in this week’s episode that I often work with while helping to prepare witnesses. First, early in the episode, Dr. Bull (the as ever delightful Michael Weatherly asks the unjustly accused defendant (the character of Richard played by guest star Zach Appelman “Do you feel guilty about something?” This particular case deals with a coerced confession. Something that happens often in real life but not so often on Law And Order. However, I find this feeling of doing something wrong when there was no wrong-doing on the part of the witness happens all the time. When working through a story, there is often what I call a “V-8” moment for a witness. I call it this in honor of the television commercial from my childhood where there is some poor deluded person drinking a plain old glass of tomato juice who suddenly hits himself or herself in the head and says to the camera, “ARGH! I could have had a V-8!” I usually uncover it by saying, “I know what you are thinking right now. You are thinking…’if only’….” And sure as whatever day of the week you are reading this has a “y” in it the person will fill that blank in with something he or she thinks that they themselves did wrong. I’ve heard everything from, “If only I had picked him up out of that emergency room and run him to another hospital” (Medical Malpractice) to “If only I hadn’t made a deal with that guy” (Contract Dispute Case) to “If only I hadn’t gotten out of bed that morning” (many, many, many cases). Dr. Bull points out although Richard thinks he should have made a “different choice” (in this case, having a fight with his fiancé who ends up as the murder victim)– making choices doesn’t mean Richard committed the murder.Of course, since he is Dr. Bull and this is television and not real life, he convinces him in a moment. In real life, it takes A LOT to convince a person that his or her own behavior couldn’t have magically prevented the event that led to the lawsuit or the crime. Sometimes no matter how hard the lawyer I am working with and I try, I just can’t convince the person that they have no responsibility for the horrible thing that happened. I think the saddest time for me is even after our side wins, that a witness will sigh and say in the midst of the victory, “If only I hadn’t….”

The other thing that Dr. Bull said in this episode to Richard was, “That’s the Richard we need to see in court – confident – the real you.” I have said often that we have many different personalities and that in witness preparation I am looking for the person within the small repertory company that is inside the witness who is going to be the best witness. Richard in this episode looks a heck of a lot like a guilty, sad, overwhelmed person most of the time. Even though he didn’t kill his girlfriend. When he displays his confident side (while making a gourmet meal in a meeting room in jail while showing off his culinary skills as a young up and coming chef – how can you not love OompaLoompas?) he truly looks like a completely different person. Instead of building “the confident Richard” persona through lots of role playing practice (that is what we really spend several hours doing when making M&M’s) in a subsequent scene Dr. Bull points out to Richard that he’ll never make it as a witness and shouldn’t testify. When I’ve been brought in it is because this witness is going to have to take the stand. And it takes a lot of hard work instead of bullying (forgive the pun) and taking over to get witnesses ready. But…that certainly wouldn’t be interesting television. I get it.

Now…for the Hollywood Insider tip. I was thinking this week about how much of this show is shot on sets that have been specifically designed and built for the show versus standard sets that have been “rented” for the show. When you look at any hour long show, you can see that very little of it is shot on location – and most of the location shots seem to me to be outdoors. The set for Dr. Bull’s fantastical headquarters was clearly built just for this show and is on a sound stage in a studio somewhere.

I don’t know if the shot this week of the dumpster and alley where the crime scene takes place is a real live location (think Law and Order and how many of the streets of New York we know because of that show) or maybe just a spot in the studio where the sound stage with that fantastical Dr. Bull’s Headquarters set lives. Sometimes I can tell what lot on which one of these scenes is shot. For example, when a scene is shot on one of the “streets” of the lot of what was once MGM Studios and is now Sony Studios in Culver City (where we live) sometimes I see a dead giveaway – like the steps where Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn first met when they were contract players at MGM. Of course, that always makes me scream with delight no matter what the show is and whether or not I am on an airplane at the moment (much to the consternation of my fellow passengers).

There are a whole series of courtroom sets out here near Valencia, California – so I don’t know if they built their own courtroom set for Bull or if they just rent one of those. My sister, Caroline James is a television producer. I had a blast once visiting her on the set when she was producing Raising The Bar. She rented those studios out in Valencia. More courtrooms than many courthouses I’ve visited. Or maybe that’s just how I remember that very special day.

Now, for this week’s mystery set for me – the elevator. There is a scene that involves an elevator (and extreme jury tampering by Dr. Bull for those who prefer reality to fantasy) and I can’t tell if it was just built for this episode or if it is a rental. You see,you can’t have a real elevator – where would you put the cameras? You need to be able to configure it so that you can shoot from above (looking down at the heads of all the people – a common elevator shot), from the back of the elevator (looking at the buttons or what it looks like when the elevator doors open) and, of course, from the front (elevator doors closing AND what goes on inside the elevator, which is where the action centers in this episode). There are such sets with set pieces in various sound stages around our neck of the woods. I remember Alan coming home once from a shoot and he was on an airplane in that particular show. There is a cutaway airplane that serves that purpose for many shows and is available for rental right now – unless someone else is using it today, of course.

Next week is Episode 6 – it will be interesting to see yet again “What’s Not Bull About Bull”. This week had a lot of fantasy for those who like a distinct lack of realism in their television viewing – but as always, those nuggets of truth come shining through.

*Remember – an “OompaLoompa” has been defined by me as a fantastical way to get the thin candy coating on a round milk chocolate candy versus the factual way they are made by the Hershey folks at the M&M’s factory. Now, you know I would really much rather see the upcoming musical on Broadway of WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY than visit the M&M’s factory. But I deal in making real live “M&M’s”, as do my fellow trial consultants at The American Society of Trial Consultants.



What’s Not Bull About Bull – Episode Four “Callisto”

24 October 2016

By Katherine James


CBS announced this week that they are “picking up” BULL for another season. So…that means that in the court of public opinion, in which BULL is the most watched new series of this season, the jury has decided it is having a great time watching this show.

As am I!

This week’s episode focused on trying a pharmaceutical patent case in a mythical town in West Texas called “Callisto”. Those of us who know and love working on patent cases know that this is actually a town in East Texas called either “Marshall” or “Tyler”. Maybe it is the “other” town – Texarkana – that IS famously both in West Texas and in Arkansas. But the town felt really like one of the first two to me – I’ve been in both.

This episode brings a nugget of truth that I work on all the time in cases – choosing language.

Every case I have ever worked on has a special “lingo” that only people who live in the world of the case understand. Many cases call for me helping witnesses find “translations” of what they say every day in their work life into language the jurors can understand, remember, and hold onto. I find myself in many cases saying, “How would you say that in English?” For example, let’s say we are in a business case and a witness answers the question, “Did you talk with Mr. Smith about what the other side is calling ‘a problem’?” with, “We interfaced with one another and determined the issue was dormant” you know the chances of any human being understanding what the heck this person is talking about are nil. It takes awhile to get folks to translate their own words. For example, eventually the witness will get to “We did talk with one another and figured out that the problem had solved itself.” But it takes time and care.

In a patent case, in general like the one Dr. Bull’s trial consulting team focuses on in this episode is bound to have language that confounds anyone who is not a scientist, engineer or an attorney in this world. The case in this episode deals with patent litigation involving a pharmaceutical drug. So…anyone on the jury who isn’t a research scientist with a drug company or a lawyer who deals with these cases is going to get totally lost really quickly if the witnesses speak their own lingo from the stand. We are treated to such an example by an expert witness who loses and alienates the jurors immediately. Dr. Bull and his team have to make sure that when their own witness, the client, talks to the jurors about the drug and the patent that she uses clear understandable language, tells her story from her heart, and echoes their really great theme: “He wanted to save money, but she wanted to save lives.”

Warning – in this episode there is an OompaLoompa that happens here. Remember – an OompaLoompa has been defined by me as a fantastical way to get the thin candy coating on a round milk chocolate candy versus the factual way they are made by the Hershey folks at the M&M’s factory. Now, you know I would really much rather see the upcoming musical on Broadway of WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY starring one of my favorite actors, Christian Borle than visit the M&M’s factory. But I deal in making real live M&M’s – think in this case – helping witnesses choose language to use on the witness stand.

The OompaLoompa is that one of the characters on Dr. Bull’s trial consulting team, former prosecutor Benny Colón played by Freddy Rodríguez does this “all by himself” in a corner somewhere (off camera by the way) and presumably then hands the testimony to the witness who memorizes it. In real life, the language must be the witness’ language, not the language of a trial consultant or an attorney. Making M&M’s takes longer, but there is nothing more rewarding than experiencing a witness translating their “lingo” into language and a story that can be understood literally and emotionally by one and all.

I promised you that in every blog I write about BULL that I would give you a Hollywood Inside Tip. This week it is this…I knew that BULL was being picked up not because of reading about it in the trades…but because a voice. I’m not talking about spiritualism…I’m talking about a pal of ours, Willow Geer whose voice is heard on the show. What does this mean? Ever notice in a film or television show that when there is a crowd of people that you might hear them talking? I’m not talking about individual actors speaking lines, I’m talking about a general sound of people talking? This is a much sought after union job that is filled by trained and talented actors like Willow. She emailed and asked us where she should go for research on juries, focus groups for trials, etc. So I knew that they were making more than the five that were scheduled for sure. Where did we direct her? To our own Knowledge Tank on the ACT of Communication website of course.

So…I wonder if next week’s episode is the last one until January or so. Can’t wait to see what it’s about…and where the nuggets of truth are.



Welcome To The Followers of Lawyerist.com

25 May 2011

From Alan:

Katherine and I are delighted that Legal Stage was named one of the 10 Practice Blogs to follow by Lawyerist.com.

We have tried to create something different here. As different and as helpful as our work has been over the past 34 years of working with trial lawyers and their witnesses.

As the first company to bring the skills of the actor, writer, director, producer and theater artist to the needs of trial lawyers and the people with whom they work, we have always looked to find the connections between disciplines. Most especially between performers and any kind of live communication. Most especially in the courtroom.

So, WELCOME. Please scroll through all of our posts and comment on what you see here and what you might like to see in the future. We welcome you and your input.

TIP: Always look for the commonality and the connections between seemingly disparate ideas and disciplines.

Subscribe to Legal Stage by Email

Trial Practice, Practice, Practice

9 May 2011

Tips on exercises to prepare for you performance in and out of the courtroom — they really work!

There is an old show business fable about the famous violinist, Jascha Heifitz. He is briskly walking down a New York street. A lost tourist asks Heifitz, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” And Heifitz replies without breaking stride, “Practice, Practice, Practice”

Trial Practice – The good old days and today

There was a time in the past when a lawyer with a trial practice was ready at any given moment to get up and try a case. Practice didn’t mean going to Carnegie Hall. Trial lawyers considered themselves living in Carnegie Hall. Why? Because attorneys who tried cases were trying cases all the time. The average trial lawyer was trying several cases a year. I do not have to tell you if you are an older trial lawyer that those times are over. If you are a newer trial lawyer, you may long to be a part of those yearned for halcyon days of yore that you’ve heard so much about from your mentors. The newer trial lawyer thinks, “I wish I was alive then so that I could be ready at any given moment to stand up and try a case today.”

But what you may not realize is that the seasoned trial lawyer thinks, “Dang, I wonder if I
today as I was back then since I just don’t do it so much anymore?” A huge dilemma faces
comes to trial practice: How can you practice when you are almost never in trial?

“So, if as a trial lawyer trial practice no longer means, ‘I go to court all the time and try cases’ what does it mean?’” I find that question being asked more frequently than it ever
trial skills workshops at ACT of Communication. A performer has a specific way to practice his or her art between daily performances and even on days when there is no show. Another of Heifitz’s famous quotes is, “If I don’t practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.” A trial lawyer also needs a way to practice the art of standing up and trying a case during the long dry spells between trials. A trial lawyer needs to learn how to “Trial Practice, Practice, Practice.”

Here are a few exercises you can start to do to keep your skills sharp. These skills will not only help you in a courtroom, but also outside the courtroom in mediations, arbitrations, depositions etc..

What you need:
• A little time. Daily time. Alone.
• A series of practice exercises.
• A video camera and way to play back what you record so you can watch and listen to it.

For more details on each exercise you can read my full article at

Warm-up exercises

An actor warms up the body and the voice every day. A musician does a series of exercises to warm-up the fingers or the voice. A dancer carefully warms up the body. A trial lawyer needs to also warm-up the voice and body as the start of the daily session. Why? Because you try your cases with your voice and your body. If you only had to send your brain waves to the judge and jurors you would win every time. You want to warm-up your voice and/or your body for about five minutes.

Choose from the following for now – eventually you may develop your own: • Hum…and then sing your favorite song starting softly and then gradually getting fuller. Thinking “fuller” instead of “louder” keeps you warming up rather than blowing out your voice.

• Take in a deep breath…exhale all the air…take in a deep breath…exhale all the air while saying “may-ay-ay-ay”…repeat several times also riding out the breath on other vowels: “me-ee-ee-ee” “mah-ah-ah-ah” “moh-oh-oh” “moo-oooo.” Make sure your voice isn’t too high or too low but in your “middle.” • Say, “My voice has many notes today” on a note in the middle of your voice (also called the middle of your vocal range). Now, go a half step lower and repeat, “My voice has many notes today.” A half step is the difference between a white key and a black key on the piano.
Go down several half-steps (but not until it hurts!). Then build back up again from that lowest note of your vocal range today…past that middle note, and up several steps (but not until it hurts!) and then back down to the middle again.
• Slowly walk in place, swinging your arms…gradually get faster…faster…until you are jogging…get slower…slower… slower…until you are slowly walking in place.
• Do a “Shake Out” – shake out your hands over your head…then swing your arms around and around…then drop
your head to your chest and shake it from side to side…then shake out your torso…your hips…your legs…one foot…the other foot. Jump up and down a few times.
• Walk around the block; get on the treadmill or the exercise bike for five minutes.

Skill-building exercises

What skills do you need to have at your command when you go to court that you can practice without going to court? And what does that have to do with performers? Trial lawyers have to talk with full, well-centered voices (so do actors and singers). They have to make sense when they read (so do actors). They have to be able to argue spontaneously out loud (actors need to be able to improvise when something unexpected happens). They have to have good posture (so do actors, musicians and dancers). They have to move well (so do actors and dancers). They have to use gestures that are helpful and not distracting (so do actors). And, perhaps most important of all, trial lawyers have to be as confident in court as if they went to court every day even though they have not been there for days or months and will not be back for days or months (like an actor, dancer or musician at an audition).

Here are some skill-building exercises that cover these needs:

• Read something out loud that you have never read before in your life (poetry, fiction, the newspaper) for five minutes. As you read, make mental notes of what words should be emphasized, where the emotion is, where the pauses should be – how to make it “make sense.” Now read the same piece again, incorporating all your “improvements.” The more days you do this exercise, the better your ability will be to make sense of something
you need to read out loud, “cold,” in court.

• Listen to someone you hate on a talk show in your car. Turn on your portable audio recorder. Tape yourself giving a short rebuttal. Play your rebuttal back again and listen for ways to improve it: vocally, word choices, content, theme, etc. Then turn on the recorder and do a new and improved rebuttal. Play it back for yourself again.

• Turn on the video camera. Stand up and do a brief opening or closing for a case in your office. Play it back and watch it without sound, paying attention to your posture, gestures and movement. Make notes on how to improve. Record it again. Now watch both takes “with sound.” Have your gestures, posture and movement improved? How about your voice and the content? Now, do a third take, incorporating what you have learned from the first two and see if you can improve all these elements.

• Put on a vocal warm-up CD in the car or follow a vocal warm-up exercise DVD or MP3 in your office or home (if you don’t have a favorite, please look at our Web site www.actofcommunication.com for such a tool). Tape yourself following along using your camera (office or home) or audio recorder (in the car). Now watch and/or listen to yourself doing the warm-up with the instructor. Are you looking like and/or sounding like the instructor? If not, where not? Try repeating the same part of the tape and try to match.

• Run outdoors, ride a bike, walk on the treadmill – whatever your regular workout entails. Give a closing argument in a case on which you are working while you are working out. When you stop exercising for the day at some point in your home or office, perform the closing as if you were giving it in court. Is your breath more connected? Your voice fuller? Your body more relaxed with gestures that feel more natural?

• Watch and/or listen to one of the great lawyers giving a classic argument (If you don’t already own “May It Please The Court,” you need to make an investment). Pick a favorite passage. Record your voice (if you are in the car) trying to emphasize the words, imitating the rises and falls and intonations of that lawyer. If you are at home or in the office, turn on the video camera. Give the passage as if it is you who are in court – imitate the voice or find better ways to give the same words. Find the way to move, gesture – emphasize the brilliant argument with your body. Play it back. Do it again, and really make it your own.


You need to evaluate what you have done at the close of each one of your Trial Practice, Practice, Practice sessions. You notice, I said evaluate rather than critique. Trial lawyers, like performers, have horrid little critics in their heads who often are not helpful. An evaluator says, “I’m so glad I have a chance to work on my voice again tomorrow.” A critic says, “I sound like Minnie Mouse in a blender – I’m never going to work on my voice again!” Ask yourself, “What’s next?” Plan out what you want the menu to be tomorrow. More work on voice? Or is tomorrow about reading out loud? Or taping yourself giving Thurgood Marshall’s argument in Brown vs. Board of Education before the Supreme Court? You may find yourself planning menus for a week at a time.

Solo to duet to trio

At some point in your individual Trial Practice, Practice, Practice sessions you may feel the need to rehearse with others. After all, how can you work on your eye contact without looking at someone else while delivering your opening? How can you tell if you are really being clear without some feedback from someone else? In our ACT of Communication workshops, we find that trial lawyers eventually seek out the feedback of others to go to the next level, no matter how great their individual Trial Practice, Practice, Practice is going. Solo practitioners seek out and find other likeminded trial lawyers (many first become acquainted at our workshops) to meet with on a weekly to monthly basis to Trial Practice, Practice, Practice together. They give one another feedback on eye contact, demeanor, style – and use one another as sounding boards on how they are each doing with their individual Trial Practice, Practice, Practice goals.

Larger firms have started a weekly Friday afternoon session starting at 4:00 p.m. where at the end of the week all the firm’s trial lawyers get together for a group Trial Practice, Practice, Practice session.


What does all this Trial Practice, Practice, Practice really get you? It’s not like it is going to be over and you never have to do it again. You are going to have to do it tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow if you are to keep growing and improving. As Heifitz said, “There is no top. There are always further heights to reach.” What it really gets you is the gift that all performers know…translated into your world. The most important gift of all – the gift of walking into the courtroom as relaxed, confident, and skilled as if you go to trial every day. You deserve that. And so do your clients. After all – isn’t that why they hired a trial lawyer?

According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success it takes roughly 10,000 hours of hard practice in a chosen field to become a master in that field. So take these exercises and be on your way to a master trial lawyer.

CLE Video Conference Workshop with Oregon Trial Lawyers Association

21 April 2011

Over the course of the next five weeks, Katherine is holding the first ACT of COMMUNICATION CLE Video Conference. Each week, she will be working with small group of lawyers from the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association on specific cases. She works with each attorney on refining their case. This is a win win opportunity for the attorneys. Not only, do they improve their skills but they also receive CLE credits.

Attorneys take turn practicing their openings and closings. They are then given pointers and skills to refine their approach. From shifting their focus, reworking the language, prioritizing the order of the story, when to be objective and when to be subjective. To find out more of how Katherine James can help you or set up an video conference workshop email her at info@actofcommunication.com

THE RISING INFLECTION. From the mouths of babes to the mouths of lawyers!

30 March 2011


When we teach lawyers how to ask questions using the rising inflection, they sometimes tell us that they “can’t hear it”. Listen to this conversation between twin baby brothers — can you hear that the one on the left is asking the one on the right questions? Do you hear how you know that they are questions even though they are spoken in baby talk? THAT’S THE RISING INFLECTION. From the mouths of babes to the mouths of lawyers!

Preparing The Parents Of The Child Client

28 March 2011

In dealing with a case that is focused around child, whether the child is hurt or killed by a doctor, defective product or any number of ways we have all seen over the years, the parents of a child client are in an extremely emotional and vulnerable state-of-mind.

As an attorney preparing the parents, he/she needs to realize they are working with a bond and/or relationship that has a more complex set of primal instincts. The Rules of Parenting that constitute the reassurance of the survival of the species which include, to protect, to defend, to love, to educate, to provide for , etc… are morphed and clouded as parents prepare for a deposition or trial.

The first job of the lawyer who is representing the child is to figure out which rule or rules have gone awry in this parent (or these parents). Only then can you try to minimize the effect this potentially monstrous hazard. Yes, monstrous. A parent with a deformed rule dominating his or her life can have monstrous consequences to a case and ultimately be hazardous to the future of his or her own child when assuming the role of witness.

In article, I am going to explore these rules and how to recognize the potential monstrous hazards they become in the parents of the children we represent.

To read the full article please visit the ACT Knowledge Tank on our website.

Costuming for the Courtroom

15 March 2011

Katherine James of ACT of Communication continues publish excellent articles to educate attorneys on the live communication skills. One of my favorites is her article titled “Costuming for the Courtroom.” In this colorful piece she addresses the issues of WHAT NOT TO WEAR to the courtroom. And working with Katherine and Alan, I have seen firsthand the makeovers they have done to better the attorney and the witness’ presence in the courtroom. Katherine teaches attorneys how to costume just as a costume designer, to help better tell the courtroom who a person is and what a person’s character is.

I know this seems so elementary but when you read her stories and hear of her experiences, you can see why this is so essential. Here is a short clip from her article:

“Oh my God, she looks terrible! Can you help me make her not look like a hooker?” If I had a dollar for every time an attorney said that to me. Or how about, “He says all he owns are T-shirts and cut offs – and he thinks that’s what he should wear to court.

Help!” Then, of course, there is the opposite but equally frightening comment, “I told him to wear a blue suit, white shirt and red tie – after all, I’ve worn the same blue suit to court for the last 25 years and I always have all my clients dress just like I do.”

How do these comments come to me? I have been a trial consultant for the past 30 years specializing in live communication skills for attorneys and their witnesses. But more significantly, I am the first trial consultant to apply theatre to the law. And as such, I am asked to make “courtroom costuming”
comments on a daily basis.

Even though I am not an attorney, I took away tips on color, style, fit, fabric and “persuasive” costuming. She also tackles the issues of judgments, misconceptions and credibility that commonly happen as a result of “poor” costuming. One may not realize the significant effect something so basic has on the jurors, judge etc…

I encourage everyone to read this article, whether you are preparing for a trial, a job interview or meeting the future in-laws she offers some useful pointers.

To read the full article please click here
Plaintiff Magazine Feb 2008

Where the law and the arts meet – whether in the courtroom, the boardroom, on stage, on screen or in rehearsal.

8 February 2011

I am very pleased and excited to be announcing our new blog. It places us squarely in the 21st Century. Along with our monthly eblasts/newsletter, our Twitter account, our Facebook Page and now the Blog, we have every option available to communicate with our friends and attorney/clients. (more…)