Storytelling in the courtroom? Storytelling for paralegals? Yes and yes. Although law school focuses on how to use solid, factual evidence, it’s not the facts that sway juries. It’s the story. In fact, one successful trial lawyer claims stories are drop-dead critical.
Read the advice of seasoned lawyers who are successful in the courtroom and you’ll soon realize the key word here is narrative. You need a narrative. Lawyers who convince juries don’t do so by bombarding them with facts and evidence to prove they are right. They do so by telling a story that the people on the jury can relate to. People make decisions based on their values and beliefs, not on hardcore evidence, and a good lawyer tells a story that ties into those values and beliefs. That makes a case real to the human beings who make up the jury—human beings who are, like the rest of us, swayed by more than just facts. In addition, jurors are more likely to remember a story than a series of facts, claims or arguments.
For law school graduates only familiar with the approach taught in law school—one devoid of storytelling techniques or methods—we offer nine tips to help you craft that courtroom narrative plus some additional resources below:
9 Tips for Crafting a Courtroom Narrative
- Determine your narrative and what you’re hoping to achieve. What do you want the jurors to believe? You have to get beyond the facts of a case to the story behind the case. Yes, A happened and B happened and then C happened. But what is the story? If you’re stumped, try to think of stories from your own life or those of people you know and see if you can come up with a similar story to help you think of this case as a story too. If that doesn’t work, consider classic stories such as David and Goliath or some other plot line and base your narrative on that.
- Make sure the story is relatable to people in general, not to a specific micro subgroup of the population—unless the jury is made up of a specific micro subgroup of the population, of course.
- Determine the emotions behind the story. What emotions does this story evoke? People think they make decisions with their minds only, but often the heart is involved as well. Focus on those emotions you want the jury to feel and make sure your narrative evokes them.
- Only include the details that support the story (and the case, obviously). Stories can be boring if poorly done, so keep that in mind as you form your narrative. Leave out needless details, places and dates.
- Speaking of boredom… Avoid boredom by using visual aids. For example, you could create a storyboard with the important facts in chronological order to tell the story during trial. This also helps you to move beyond telling to showing, giving jurors more than one way to absorb your information. This also works because people remember visual information more readily than they remember auditory information. Your visual aids can be photographs, charts, number-based graphs, or something else.
- Like any good storyteller, you’ll also need to keep the story moving along. Stories have a beginning, middle and end, remember.
- When crafting your narrative, focus on the people, not the problem. Think of them like characters in your story because they are. The jurors will care more about and more easily relate to the people involved and what they experienced.
- Be consistent with your narrative throughout all phases of the case. Remember that old adage, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
- Always be factual! Sure, it’s a story, but that doesn’t mean it’s fiction. You can be creative in how you present the information, but not with the information.
Follow the basic story structure
If you’re still stumped on how to go about crafting a narrative for the courtroom, think through the structure of any story, not just a legal one. Usually a story is built on a framework such as:
- Introduction/Exposition: Scene is set, plot revealed
- Rising Action: Conflict and hero is revealed. Finds solution to problem
- Climax: Hero’s situation is clearly better or worse
- Falling Action: Conflict is diminishing
- Resolution: Transition to end of the story. Morals are revealed, there is relief
Do paralegals need to be storytellers?
If you’re a paralegal, you might be wondering how this storytelling advice applies to you, since you’re not the one presenting in front of a jury. Ah, but you play a crucial role in developing the narrative in your role as paralegal! When you’re interviewing clients or witnesses, you can be listening for story elements. When you’re helping an attorney with research, you can be looking for key parts of a potential narrative. You can even provide feedback to the attorney to help them write their arguments in a storytelling way. You might not be the one telling the story, but you play a role in crafting it.
To learn more…
If you’d like more advice on crafting stories for the courtroom or as a paralegal while interviewing, try these highly recommended resources: