Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Become a Storyteller

Shakespeare, Faulkner and Poe have a lot to teach us about being litigators. That is because they have a lot to teach us about telling a story. When it comes down to it, we litigators are first and foremost storytellers. We cast our client in the role of the protagonist. We arrange the facts to develop the plot. And everything we do in the case - every question we ask in deposition, every interrogatory we propound, every motion we file - is directed to developing our theme - the heart of the story, without which there are no "happily ever afters."

Do not underestimate the power of a story. Stories have preserved the histories of ancient civilizations. Stories captivate our children’s attention, whether we read them from a book or invent them while sitting at the foot of their beds. Every day, stories spill out of our radios and our televisions and our theaters like milk pouring out a carton. And stories have inspired many of us to pursue this profession - stories like To Kill A Mockingbird. They are one of the most powerful tools at a litigator’s disposal. I would go so far as to say that to be a good litigator one must first be a good story teller.

When you first get a case, you need to start thinking what story you are going to tell the judge or jury. Is the story based on the facts? Does it hold together? Is there a central theme that runs throughout? Is it captivating? Most importantly, in your story, does the fact finder want to root for your client? Does he want your client to win? It is never too early to start developing your story. And if it turns out the facts prevent you from telling a compelling story that casts your client as the hero, then perhaps it is time to seriously consider settlement.

But before you sit down and start mapping out stories, you need to know how to tell one, and before you can do that, you need to have read a few. So I would suggest that your legal education does not start and end with cases and statutes, but rather in the pages of Hemmingway and Camus and Vonnegut. Pick up the classics, and commit to read one a month. As you read them, think about the story being told, how it plays on your intellect and on your emotions, and how it directs you to think or feel a certain way. The elements of the story - the characterization, the plot, the theme, the symbolism, the scenes - these are the elements that you need to acquaint yourself with, to study and to use when you develop the stories of your cases, the stories that tell how your client wins and how everybody lives happily ever after.

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