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The persuasive power of letting the story tell itself

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Successful trial work requires throwing one’s entire self into smart, intuitive, and inspired case review and preparation; work with one’s client and all witnesses; and sweat..

By the time the lawyer appears in the courtroom stage, s/he should be so well prepared and ready to win that the structure, story and flow of the case and client’s cause will unfold as a persuasively natural process.

A big part of that winning process is in the storytelling. Compellingly interesting — and at times even entertaining — persuasively honest storytelling opens the listeners’ ears, hearts and minds exceedingly more than talking head argument.

Two days ago, I was interviewed for an online article about police pretextual stops. As I read this opinion article, I was struck by how much the writer’s sweeping generalizations and opinion injection heavily detracted from making this sad story about police excesses the compelling story that it would have been had the author simply relied much more on letting the story tell itself.

I do not mean to disrespect the writer of the foregoing article by specifically singling out his article. Instead, I find his article to be among the best examples I have ever found about the importance of letting the story tell itself. I already emailed the writer yesterday my belief that he would have had a much stronger story by letting the story tell itself.

How can a lawyer best let the story tell itself in court? Certainly the lawyer must follow written and judge-ordered procedures and fit the storytelling around the process of jury selection, opening statement, direct and cross examination, presentation of evidence, jury instructions, closing argument, and responding to jury notes. At the same time, the jury and often the judge when acting as a fact-finder are ordinarily much more interested in hearing the honest story of the case without the lawyer injecting too much editorializing and without the lawyer trying to make himself or herself and her ego center stage. If the lawyer remains compellingly interested in his or her case and case story as a fascinating journey to knowing the essential story, then the storytelling process will more compellingly, logically and persuasively flow.

It can be scary at first for a criminal defense lawyer to transition from merely picking apart the prosecutor’s case in an effort to show reasonable doubt, to actually creating a persuasive story that is owned by the defense. However, the alternative to this transition is weakness, at the very least.

A fascinating story often is told in the voice of a narrator and of course through the characters and the dialogue, and with one’s lawyer hat off. A fascinating story brings the listeners as eager participants, from scene to scene, mood to mood, and in a logical direction. Storytelling at trial does not need to be any different.

Let the story tell itself.