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A professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law is hoping to churn out exceptional trial lawyers by making them watch the Wizard of Oz. But not because there’s any major crime to solve or complicated plot to unravel. Instead, Professor Steve Easton is using the movie to help law school students understand how witnesses struggle with their own memories. The exercise goes like this: One law school student takes the stand as Dorothy, while other students act as attorneys and interrogate Dorothy about scenes from the movie. They ask her simple things like, “What did the Wicked Witch say to Dorothy when she threatened her, and Toto.” Usually, the witness gets it wrong, Easton noted, even though they’ve seen the movie the night before. “I was looking for an exercise that duplicates the dynamics of a courtroom where witnesses struggle with their own memories,” Easton said. “I was also looking for a preliminary exercise to demonstrate to students how many problems witnesses would have even when they’re doing their best to rely on their memory.” Easton picked the Wizard of Oz because it’s a movie most people are familiar with, and because Dorothy is in nearly every scene of the movie, making her a credible witness to all the events along the Yellow Brick Road. Easton, a former trial attorney of 14 years, said one of the main lessons of the exercise is: “Don’t ask your witness for a fact unless it’s important to your case. . . . If they get something wrong, that hurts their credibility.” That lesson sunk through for attorney Joy Jackson, one of Easton’s former students who took the course her senior year in 2004. She partially credits the Wizard of Oz exercise with helping her win five of the seven cases she tried her first year out of law school. Jackson, a collections lawyer at Faber & Brand in Columbia, Mo., had played Dorothy in Easton’s class and recalled how nervous she was as a witness. That helped her better prep her own witnesses, whose anxieties she was familiar with, and taught her how to frame questions to get the answer she wanted without using a leading question. “It was one of the most valuable courses I had in law school,” Jackson said. “The fact that I had that [witness] experience made it a lot easier for me to go into the courtroom. I would recommend it to anyone going to law school.”

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