Development of Role Plays

  • Author: Mira Gur-Aire, Ford Foundation


Roleplays are an effective method of training students in practical skills of work of the lawyer as they are based on a principle of training in practice: students are given an opportunity to apply theory - that they studied in class rooms and from the textbooks - in practice. Contains detail recommendations about different role plays.


Mira Gur-Arie, Ford Foundation


Roleplays are an effective method of training students in practical skills of work of the lawyer as they are based on a principle of training in practice: students are given an opportunity to apply theory - that they studied in class rooms and from the textbooks - in practice.

Many students feel shyness when they take part in a roleplay as they think, that a person should be “a born lawyer”. Training such skills, we set up a problem – to give students general knowledge and to form the certain level of skills so that working with every new client and new case they could feel confidence and demonstrate maturity and common sense. Students gradually will understand that in order to become a good lawyer it is not necessary to have strong and outstanding personality. A good lawyer knows creative ways to the materials of a case. 

Training of skills essentially differs from teaching subjects of substantive law and the theory of law. There is no one "right answer" or one true approach to such skills as interviewing of a client or interrogation of a witness in court. Certainly, there are more successful and effective techniques, but each lawyer solves these problems in his own manner with account of his personal experience, and each case needs somewhat different approach. Use of roleplays is an effective way to demonstrate this thesis and instill confidence in students.

PERFORMANCE of roleplays

A trainer should give clear oral instructions at a roleplay; a purpose of an exercise should be explained as well as the benefits for students participating in the roleplay. Time limits should be defined in advance for  each part of the roleplay.  For example, it is possible to allocate 10 minutes on interview with a client and 7 minutes on comments. Roles of students should be casts well in advance  - whether they play roles of lawyers, witnesses, judges or observers.

In order to involve the maximum number of students it is possible to conduct several roleplays simultaneously; trainers can attend different subgroups and comment only from time to time. Subgroups can be small (4-10 students) so that each student had an opportunity to act at least in one role, and to observe work of colleagues. After each roleplay the trainer should lead a "session" of commenting (see below: “Technique of critical estimation/commenting”), starting with questions to those students who played roles of lawyers and witnesses/clients asking them about their opinions on the roleplay with their participation.  It is recommended also to develop special questionnaires for assessment (for trainers and for students). Such questionnaires allow students and trainers to learn opinion of others and are useful for the purposes of commenting and for teaching students in critical assessment of their own work.

Prior to performance of a roleplay, it is important to do the following:

To analyze together with students preliminary information, including characteristic features of roles which will be played by students

To explain every stage of play

To explain what is expected from each role

To explain the time limit of the play

To make sure that everyone understand the presented information.

Recommendations on development of effective roleplays

Success of roleplay depends on efficiency of its structure. Before writing an exercise, it is important to have a clear vision of the purpose of the given roleplay: whether it is intended for general familiarization with one or another skill (in such situation it is better to choose less complex case), for attraction of students’ attention at a concrete legal or ethical problem, for training students to choose certain approach to certain type of clients, etc. Contents, volume and complexity of a case, roles of students and information received by a client, can vary depending on the pedagogical purposes of a trainer.

Each component of an exercise in the form of roleplay reflects certain informed decision. The task for roleplay can include all or some of the following components:

Case papers                             Description of a hypothetical legal problem with introduction of characters, which roles will be played (a lawyer, a client, a witness, a judge, etc.).

Cast                                           Information that is necessary actors playing different roles (including confidential information if necessary).

Instructions                              Detailed explanations concerning necessary preparation (both at a lesson and as a homework), the status of a case (for example: “it is your first meeting with the client”), distributions of students on roles, time limits.

Reading materials                  Any information necessary for preparation of students, including manuals, legislation, typical legal document.


It is possible to create a roleplay for development of any type of skills – interview with a client, legal profession, drawing up of legal documents; roleplay can be based on any branch of law - housing, labor, constitutional or criminal law. Whatever is the theme of a lesson, it is very important to think twice about the amount of information that should be given to students for preparation, and which information should not be given - so that they find it themselves, and such search for information can become a part of educational process.

For example, if the task of drawing up of legal documents is aimed at technique of legal documentation it is advisable to provide students with all necessary information (actual circumstances of a case, analysis of legislation) so that they could concentrate on style. If the exercise is aimed at analysis of legislation students should be provided only the actual information so that they could engage themselves in the process of analysis.

Roleplays should be narrowly directed and carefully thought over in order to be effective. It is useful to check cases on colleagues, to make sure that there are no facts missing, misleading or inappropriate facts which will distract students from the purpose of exercise.

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