In Editorial Two Cents


Lawyers have always been great storytellers.  A trial is but a story of conflict between two parties. Law schools teach budding trial lawyers to use the elements of storytelling to persuade judges. The technique is, first, you must have a theme, we are told. The theme should be simply stated. Example in a car accident case, something like, “one careless moment can cause a lifetime of being”. The lawyer should reinforce this theme throughout the trial from pre-trial until drafting of memorandum. Judges may not remember the details of a case but they will keep in mind “the” theme.

Other story telling techniques are used in the prefatory statement usually in your initiatory pleadings. The lawyer must tell the judge what he believes the evidence will show. To be effective, this preview of the trial should hook the judge right away, just as the first chapter of a novel should make the reader want to keep turning the pages. An effective opening/prefatory statement not only will make the judge want to know more about the case, but should also persuade the judge to the lawyer’s position. But this must be done carefully, not by arguing the position, which is reserved for the closing, but by structuring information in a subtle yet convincing way. Certain facts must be presented in any trial (and in any novel). But in what order do you present them? What “spin” do you put on those facts? The trial lawyer should not discuss everything in his prefatory statement. There has to be some information the judge is not told. The lawyer must whet, not satiate, the judge’s appetite.

The lawyer must also care about the client just as readers must care about a writer’s protagonist. To care, a lawyer must know certain details about the client’s background. What kind of person is the client? What life experiences has he or she had that will move the judge to empathize with the client? The lawyer can bring out this information from different witnesses, emphasizing those facts that will reinforce the theme. If the judge buys the theme and empathizes with the client, then the lawyer is more likely to get a favorable verdict.

Even the parallels between trials and storytelling, it should not be surprising that so many lawyers have turned to fiction writing. What is surprising is the breadth and quality of the writing. There are a lot of lawyers who have made the transition from law to literature. Some, like John Grisham (one of my personal favorite authors), Stephen Murphy and Scott Turow, have become household names. Others, like Richard Dooling and Louis Begley, have received literary acclaim without becoming mainstays on the bestseller lists.

I have been constantly amazed at the growth of legal fiction as well as the number of lawyers who have published novels. I thought i knew of all the lawyer-authors. But on occasion I’d spend an hour browsing in the new fiction section of local bookstores, and pick out one or two new ones every time, i realized i would never exhaust the supply.

I pay great respect and admiration to all of you lawyer-authors. May the Force be with you! :D

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  1. John Grisham is my favorite lawyer-author and i believe he is also the most famous in the field. i've read at least three of his novels and a number of his stories made to the big screen

  2. i love reading cases uploaded in the Supreme Court's website. I can tell lawyers are great story-tellers.

  3. I heard John Grisham has new a new novel and the title is University but the last time i checked our local powerbooks branch, they have none yet.

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