by Ken Lopez
In the courtroom, the attorney who has the best chance of winning a case is generally the one who is the best storyteller. The trial lawyer who makes the audience care, who is believable, who most clearly explains the case, who develops compelling narrative and who communicates the facts in the most memorable way builds trust and credibility.
If you follow some basic storytelling and speech making principles as a litigator, you will obtain better courtroom results. Often these storytelling techniques are used in the opening statement.
But what’s the right way to do this? In law school, some of us were taught to begin our openings in a manner that often started with the phrase, "This is a case about . . . ." In speech making courses, we are taught to begin with a clever quip or to state one's belief, as I did in the opening line of this article. Some experts in persuasive communications suggest organizing content in the order of Belief - Action – Benefit, while yet other experts say to use the format of as Why - How - What.
So, which is the best way to go? The simple answer is that the science on the topic is far from settled. In view of that, here are ten 10 videos that will help a litigator tell better stories in opening and become a better storyteller.
- Simon Sinek is loved by marketers, raconteurs and persuasion experts for this simple and incredibly compelling TED Talk. It has changed the way I present information, whether in opening statement, a corporate speech or a blog article. For litigators, the lesson to follow is to consider his golden circle when preparing an opening.
Organize your speech on the basis of why, how, what, not what, how, why. Don't say, for example, “I represent XYZ pharma company, a great company that is more than 100 years old. XYZ stands here accused of price-fixing. I am asking you today to not reward the plaintiffs because they are simply greedy and serial plaintiffs.”
Instead say, “The plaintiff is asking you to believe the unbelievable. To find for the plaintiff, you would have to buy the notion that a dozen highly paid executives from a dozen companies and their accountants and their lawyers and their bankers all engaged knowingly in a conspiracy in which they stood to gain very little. Today, I am here representing XYZ pharma company, and I am asking you to stop plaintiffs from tarnishing our good name and put an end to plaintiff's greed."
- A Chicago DUI attorney reminds us of the importance of telling a story that is different from your opponent. All too often I see accomplished defense counsel spending the majority of their case explaining why their opponent's case is wrong rather than telling a different story.
- Harvard Law School's Steven Stark introduces his lecture on storytelling.
- Ira Glass discusses the building blocks of storytelling. While he is discussing the elements of a journalistic style, his ideas are equally applicable to the courtroom.
- A UNC Professor lectures on the topic of storytelling and provides three examples of effective storytelling.
- In this Harvard Business Review interview, Peter Guber discusses the art of purposeful storytelling. He reminds us of the value of not reading from a script. Memorably, he reminds us that we are in the emotional transportation business.
- In this helpful video, litigator Mitch Jackson reminds us of how to share stories with a jury.
- Litigator Jeff Parsons discusses how to tell a story and one key to successful storytelling: knowing your audience.
- Attorney Jeffrey Kroll moderates a panel on the Power of Persuasive Storytelling.
- In 4 minutes, this TED Talk humorously but effectively shows the power of combining a visual presentation, here from an iPad, with an oral presentation.
Below are some additional resources on our site and off our site that you may find useful:
- 6 Reasons the Opening Statement is The Most Important Part of the Case
- 5 Ways to Research Your Judge's Likes and Dislikes
- Free A2L Consulting E-Books for Download
- [Offsite] A Collection of Quotes and Resources on Storytelling for Lawyers
- [Offsite] More on Storytelling for Lawyers