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Anyone who has ever seen Al Gore speak is painfully aware that there’s more to communicating than mere words. Body language tells a story, too. Developing that language into a sort of science is something practitioners of “neuro-linguistic programming” (NLP) think they’ve done. And for nearly 20 years now, some jury consultants have been applying the techniques to courtrooms. Though the shine has faded from its once-bright star and many today dismiss its relevance, NLP still has its advocates. Like many counterculture ideas, aspects of NLP have been scattered into the larger culture. But there are still places to learn about it in its purest, and perhaps most controversial, form. NLP, which sprung from the same Northern California counterculture of est (Ehrhard Seminar Training) and the Esalen Institute, is known to virtually every trial consultant around, though its usefulness is questioned by many. But Constance Bernstein, surrounded by trial briefs in her San Francisco home, is an exception. She believes in what advocates say is NLP’s secret power — persuasion. NLP is a system of communicating aimed at “synchronizing” the speaker and the listener to get the listener more receptive to the words, which is why it has become somewhat popular in the legal profession. Every lawyer wants every juror to hang on their every word, a goal Bernstein and others say NLP can help achieve. “We naturally get in physical sync with people we are in agreement with,” says Bernstein, who owns Synchronics Group. NLP offers techniques to develop that synchronicity through a variety of unspoken methods. Once in sync, Bernstein says, a listener is more receptive to, and has a greater tendency to believe, the spoken word. “There’s no way someone can be persuasive … when they are in emotional opposition to you,” Bernstein says. Not long after it was developed, NLP began to be applied to business and the law. “Most everybody thinks facts and law decides a case. In reality, it’s the perception of facts and law,” says Eric Oliver of MetaSystems, based near Detroit, who advocates NLP. Bernstein explains: “The law does matter, of course it matters. But what matters just as much, if not more, is rapport.” The techniques of NLP involve several things: mirroring (assuming a posture or stance similar to listener), anchoring (repeatedly standing in the same spot or repeating the same gesture to reinforce a particular statement), and other techniques that might seem nothing other than common sense, such as reading the direction of a listener’s eyes or pacing your speech to match another’s (another way of synchronizing). Oliver gives an example of anchoring: “I know a lawyer in Philadelphia — he divides the courtroom in half. He stands on one side for liability issues and the other side for damages issues.” Though its influence isn’t profound, NLP still has advocates. “There’s always been a couple of people [who teach it],” said Karen Lisko, president of the 350-member American Society of Trial Consultants. “It’s not a widespread trend.” Some say the reason for that is because it’s hogwash. “I don’t know any reputable national jury consultants who use it,” said one Bay Area consultant. Lawyers “wouldn’t hire me if I brought that up.” Another called it “new-age silliness.” The line between NLP and nonverbal communication, a much more widely accepted area of scholarship on courtroom techniques, is blurry. NLP is more narrowly focused, and purports to have a greater influence on the listener, but includes techniques that cross over into nonverbal communications. They include gesturing expansively (taking up space demonstrates authority) and walking around the courtroom (what Bernstein calls “pissing in every corner”). Lawyers may reap the benefits of NLP without realizing it. Oliver uses it in study groups to measure the reactions of faux jurors, while Bernstein incorporates it into her teachings about courtroom communication. “You don’t learn these communication skills in law school,” she said.

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