One of my responsibilities when helping my clients (all of whom are trial lawyers and litigators) is to suggest ways in which they can tell the story of their case, to captivate the attention of the jury, mediator, arbitrator, or judge. Almost everyone is familiar with story telling as a way of conveying information, but sometimes, attorneys forget this important concept, such that they present information in boring, confusing, and/or uninteresting ways. I have always enjoyed a good story. When I was growing up, my dad rarely read children’s books to me before bedtime. Instead, he would create a story (usually involving me as the protagonist) every night. His imagination and creativity were boundless! Oh, the places we would go in our wild adventures! These stories captivated my attention and I never grew tired of anticipating where the next adventure would take place or how the story would turn out. The only guarantee was that, with Daddy’s stories, there would be a good ending, sometimes with a moral or other lesson imbedded. Now, when I am advising my clients, I remind them that all good stories have a clear beginning, including a theme or premise; a strong middle in which the theme is repeated several times, in various ways; and an interesting (ta da!) ending. As every social/cognitive psychologist knows, in order for someone to remember something, there has to be attention paid to it in the first place and there is no better way to capture someone’s attention than telling a really good story. And, every story has an ending; with credit to my dad, I will end this post the way he ended all of his stories, “and they lived happily ever after.”
Unfortunately for the characters in the very real life stories surrounding many of the cases we handle, the endings do not result in living happily ever after. Thus, the stories told to our mock jurors are often tragic. But, regardless of the facts of the situation, the way in which the story is told by both the plaintiff and defense lawyers greatly impacts the ending of the story, as written by the jurors, (real or mock). Most of our attorney clients are good, some very good, at telling their client’s story. For the purposes of mock jury research, we depend on someone from the trial team to tell the story of “the other side” – something which is more difficult for some attorneys than others. Those whom we would rate “very good” at telling the story are those who are empathetic and able to make often complicated facts comprehensible and cogent. A story told without empathy or enthusiasm will fall flat. This is true in many contexts, whether the bed time stories Melissa reminisces about, or in every day life. Or in a job interview, or interacting with clients. It is amazing to me to read books by writers who are able to tell the story in a way that I can visualize. To me, being able to make words come alive in this way is the hallmark of a good story teller. And, I fear that for many, storytelling is fading. In the world at large, the visual experiences of movies, television, and the internet remove the need to visualize from one’s imagination. For our clients, trial lawyers, the opportunities to tell a compelling story to a jury have diminished. Yet, while a good story is still critical to a trial attorney in a mediation or arbitration, because the audience, rules, and environment are different than in a jury trial, the loss of the storytelling skill is unfortunate. But it makes it all the more noticeable to us when we are hired by a client who has the story telling gift.