The Story Begins. . .
Whether it is in the courtroom or the board room, the one who tells the better story is usually the one who wins the argument. When it comes to trials, good lawyers spend hours agonizing over every minute detail. They have their exhibits sorted out, they have files with damning evidence against the other side, they meticulously craft opening and closing arguments. The lawyers who can, hire teams of experts and other professionals in order to make the other side less credible.
However, the truly great lawyers, the ones that can do the seemingly impossible, know how to tell a story. It is no surprise that jurors, like everyone else, make a lot of their decisions based on feelings. The simple fact is, very few lawyers know how to express themselves, how to tell a story. It seems a little silly because telling a story is something we grew up knowing how to do. Our mothers and teachers would read stories to us, we would watch stories on television, we would tell and explain stories in school, and we would make up stories when we got in trouble. As we got older, we would tell different stories: College students would tell stories about that awesome party the night before, or about how unfair that test was.
It is somewhere in the three years of law school that young adults who could once tell a story that would fill a room, now rely on strongly worded memorandums and legal briefs to do their communicating. What used to be a "car," "truck," or "SUV" has now become a "vehicle." Normal speech became formulaic, almost robotic. It is incredible to me that a lifetime of color can be sucked out in three years of law school.
One of my professors, who I still keep in contact with, is famed trial attorney, Roy Black. He teaches a mock trial class called Criminal Evidence at the University of Miami - School of Law, and from the first day, one of his most repeated lessons was to "talk like a human being." He would reiterate, it's not a "vehicle," it's a car. John didn't "communicate" with Smith, John "told" Smith. I remember on the last day of my mock trial, my closing argument got an applause from our student-made jury. It wasn't because my argument was something out of the pages of a Plato or Socrates, it was because I knew that the way to sway a jury, is to create a sense of interest and emotion.
Gerry Spence, another incredible trial lawyer, runs the Trial Lawyers College, and some of the exercises he uses is making the students sing a song, create a painting, do a dance, write a poem, and have an emotional experience in nature. The point is to try to bring back the feeling of humanity into a person, the personhood, as Gerry likes to say.
The point is, one does not have to be forced to write a poem, sing, or create a painting to be able to tell a riveting story, although it helps to be creatively inclined. One only needs to communicate in a way to create interest and a powerful emotion response in the listeners. That is the way you win a jury.
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